Live free, but do no harm

Photo by Benn Bell

In the course of human affairs, there is perhaps no more important principle than the right of personal freedom for the individual. However, these rights are not unlimited. One has to go no further than to John Stuart Mill for guidance. Mill posits the “harm principle” which holds that the actions of individuals should only be limited to prevent harm to other individuals. He states in his treatise, On Liberty, “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” If we turn to Frances’s Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789,” we see a similar statement of values: “Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.”

Articles IV and V from the Declaration of the Rights of Man states:

Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those borders which assure other members of the society the fruition of these same rights. These borders can be determined only by the law.

The law has the right to forbid only actions harmful to society. Anything which is not forbidden by the law cannot be impeded, and no one can be constrained to do what it does not order.

An individual’s action can be legitimately encroached upon if and only if that action might harm another individual.

Returning to Mill, “No person is an entirely isolated being.” But it is only when an individual “violates a distinct and assignable obligation to any other person or persons, the case is taken out of the self-regarding class.” We harm an individual only when we violate an obligation to that individual. The damage done by the bad example set to others by a drunkard provides no legitimate reason for interference with his conduct; if his drunkenness causes him to violate the obligation to support his family, then that action constitutes “a harm” and is subject to interference.

If we cause sickness and death to come another individual through our actions or inactions such as wearing a mask and or being vaccinated during a pandemic, then we are in violation of the “harm principle” and are subject to interference.

The dividing line between the legitimate and illegitimate use of our freedom is difficult, but not impossible to draw. As responsible citizens and moral beings, we must look out for the rights of others as well as our own individual rights.

9 thoughts on “Freedom

  1. A very poignant post. I would definitely agree with this concept of liberty and freedom being limited to actions that don’t harm others. I like how you mention inaction too, ie. not wearing a mask or keeping distance from others. It’s a hot topic at the moment.

    When people say it’s their personal freedom being stomped on when they’re told to wear a mask or be polite in staying away from others, I can’t help but think that they’re taking away the freedom of those around them to not get Covid, to not have someone too close to them or talking across their face as they shout to their friend.

    Caz xx

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The only problem with your essay is that it is based on bad science.

    For example, if you were asked if mask effectiveness was a question for doctors, you’d be wrong. It’s a question for physicists and engineers to answer. So far, their research on the effectiveness of masks has only just begun.

    Mask mandates are therefore without foundation since there is no good evidence that masks prevent harm, except for self-contained breathing apparatus.

    The science is also clear that social distancing doesn’t work.

    Questions about vaccine mandates have to do with risk/benefit. The science is clear that natural immunity is far better than vaccines as regards immunity.

    The science is clear that the covid vaccines have caused more deaths and serious adverse events like stroke as recorded in the VAERS database than all other vaccines for the last 40 years.

    People have a right to risk their own bodies, but not to knowingly cause harm to the bodies of others. E.g., it would not be wrong to go out normally, without masks, if you didn’t know that you were infectious, but it would be wrong to have sex with someone else if you had AIDS.

    Liked by 1 person

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