Beyond the Harm Principle

Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 216-246, 2006

37 Pages Posted: 28 May 2008 Last revised: 22 Jul 2008

See all articles by Arthur Ripstein

Arthur Ripstein

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law


In the most influential passage in On Liberty, John Stuart Mill introduces the "harm principle," according to which "The only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilized community against his will, is to prevent harm to others." Mill goes on to gloss the principle, writing "The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which is he is answerable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign." My aim is to argue that a commitment to individual sovereignty within a sphere of action in which you are answerable only to yourself requires that we abandon the harm principle.

Suggested Citation

Ripstein, Arthur, Beyond the Harm Principle. Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 216-246, 2006, Available at SSRN:

Arthur Ripstein (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

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