Fairly Imputing 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:
Fairly Imputing Harms

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Feinberg identifies additional restrictions on the application of the harm principle. Thwarting competing interests, for example, is not a harm unless it is also wrong, which means that it is inflicted unfairly, not voluntarily consented to, or illegitimate. Accumulative harms (harms caused by the general performance of a given action that on an individual basis does not cause harm) must be assessed by the legislature according to the likelihood of people undertaking this action. Feinberg examines environmental pollution as an example of a public accumulative harm. The effort to minimize threats to public interest such as air and water pollution must operate within the limits of efficacy, equity, and fair play. Feinberg notes that, as a consequence of these criteria, the harm principle not only loses its character as a merely vacuous ideal but also loses all semblance of factual simplicity and normative neutrality.

Keywords: accumulative harms; competing interests; environmental pollution; normative neutrality; public interest

Chapter.  13175 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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