Assessing and Comparing Harms

Joel Feinberg

in The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law Volume 1: Harm to Others

Published in print August 1987 | ISBN: 9780195046649
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199868728 | DOI:
Assessing and Comparing Harms

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Formulates some “mediating maxims” to guide a legislature in applying the harm principle to difficult cases. Supplemental criteria that restrict the application of the harm principle include the magnitude of the harm committed, the probability of the harm occurring, the relative importance of the harm, and the aggregative nature of the harm. The greater the probability of harm, for example, the less grave the harm need be to justify coercion. In addition to such moral principles, practical reasons and rules of common sense are relevant to the application of the harm principle. Since a limitation on liberty is itself a harm, the state is justified by the harm principle in invading citizens’ interests in liberty only if this action outweighs the greater harm that would be caused by proscribed actions.

Keywords: coercion; harm principle; liberty; mediating maxims; moral principles; practical reasons

Chapter.  14732 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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