Sunday, September 22, 2019

Social Philosophy Essay Example for Free

Social Philosophy Essay Introduction As more and more cities, counties, states, and counties ban smoking in public places, place high taxes on cigarettes, and otherwise enact anti-smoking laws, clashes between the rights of one group of people and the rights of another are inevitable. If this principle were the basis for deciding public policy, which Mill advocated as one of its usages, Mill would fall somewhere in the middle on the smoking/anti-smoking spectrum. Certainly, Mill’s harm principle can be (and has been) used by both sides to support their own arguments.    In the smoking debate, the harm principle falls short in determining which of two harms is lesser, or which of two rights or interests is greater. This is why it is a useful philosophy in debate, but should not be the sole basis for legislation and public policy. John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill argued for a society organized around â€Å"one very simple principle †¦ that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection† (15-16). This is referred to as the â€Å"harm principle,† and is considered one of the founding principles of utilitarianism (Wilson 45-48). Utilitarianism is a belief system which adopts the harm principle, arguing that each individual has the right is pursue his or her own happiness, as long as that pursuit doesn’t harm another individual also pursing their happiness or utility (Wilson 40-44). This is not quite the same as interfering or impeding an individual’s path to happiness, as Mill points out in chapter V of On Liberty; â€Å"In many cases, an individual, in pursuing a legitimate object, necessarily and therefore legitimately causes pain or loss to others, or intercepts a g ood which they had a reasonable hope of obtaining† (106-7).   In other words, Mill recognized that there was not a utopia where every individual could pursue happiness with no overlap when, for example, two individuals pursue happiness through the same, singular person. Mill’s goal was to create a principle that could serve as the basis for society, in legislation, and in social standards and customs. In the final chapter he goes into significant detail regarding the kinds of situations to which this principle could be applied, specifically â€Å"how far liberty may legitimately be invaded for the prevention of crime, or of accident† (108). Mill favors the strongest strictures on liberty in the case of children, where he argues for potential parents having to prove their financial fitness in order to have children at all, and then to provide education for all children (121-122). On issues of crime, he considers government to properly have a place as a precautionary, administrative organization than as a legislative and punitive one (Mill 128). Throughout the treatise, Mill treads the line between the liberties of individuals and the commitment each individual has to society, seeing individuals as heroes who must consistently fight against the whitewashing of democratic society, warning that â€Å"If resistance waits til life is reduced nearly to one uniform type, all deviations from that type will come to be considered impious, immoral, even monstrous and contrary to nature† (84). How the Harm Principle Relates to Anti-Smoking Laws Mill specifically discusses the â€Å"sale of poisons† and taxes on the sale of certain substances deemed to be immoral (109-113). He argues for both the sale and taxation of, for example, alcohol, as being regulation that is â€Å"not contrary to principle† (109). Therefore, we can extrapolate that he would not necessarily be averse to taxes on the sale of cigarettes, since It must be remembered that taxation for fiscal purposes is absolutely inevitable; that in most countries it is necessary that a considerable part of that taxation should be indirect; that the State, therefore, cannot help imposing penalties, which to some persons may be prohibitory, on the use of some articles of consumption. (114) This is important because it underlines Mill’s philosophy of harm as it relates to economics. He did not believe that by adding taxation which would put the price of a certain item out of reach for some individuals, that this was â€Å"harming† them in such a way as to impose on their pursuit of happiness and utility. He considered taxation to be most properly levied against â€Å"what commodities the consumer can best spare† (114). Cigarettes and tobacco are certainly considered ‘extras’ rather than necessities in contemporary society, but they have not always been considered as such. So where, at certain points and in certain cultures, cigarettes were considered something of necessity, the taxation of them would have been an encroachment from the State onto an individual’s liberty. This case problematizes the relationship between Mill’s harm principle and his theory of democratic societies being slavishly ruled by the majority opinion. We have seen an enormous shift in popular opinion regarding the use of tobacco in the United States. What may have been an affront on liberty 50 or 100 years ago (heavy taxation of cigarettes and tobacco products) may be viewed now as simply being necessary to fund our government. If societies are not static entities, and the mores of a single society may shift over even short periods of time, how can we be sure that the currently prevailing opinion is, in fact, the ‘right’ one? Mill believed that â€Å"Society has expended fully as much effort in the attempt †¦ to compel people to conform to its notions of personal, as of social excellence† (19). Indeed the taxation of cigarettes seems to amount to a sin tax, as more of a punishment than a tax of an item which is not absolutely necessary to survival. Medical science is not immune to these changing tides in public opinion. During the waning years of Prohibition in this country, teetotalers claimed that the exhalation of breath from a person drinking alcohol could effectively â€Å"poison† an innocent person standing nearby (Stewart lines 18-19). Similarly, anti-smoking proponents claim today that the exhalations of smoke from one individual can adversely affect the health of another individual. Mill saw this as an argument against censorship; â€Å"We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion, and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still† (14). While we may not be able to know without doubt which opinion is the right one, Mill saw this as an opportunity for individuals to exercise their liberty through discussion and debate. In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Mill, Fred Wilson discusses the important of debate in Mill’s philosophy; â€Å"Only through free debate can such critical skills be developed and maintained: our self-development as reasonable persons, capable of critical assessments for belief and action† (45). The goal is not to produce an unerringly ‘right’ decision, but to create a society where open and honest discussion is a part of the mechanism of liberty in society, as both a check on our human fallibility and an encouragement to progress. Why the Harm Principle is Inadequate as a Basis for Public Policy The harm principle provides a philosophy of the individual and his or her relationship to society which is useful as an individual or institution level philosophy. This is especially true for those individuals or institutions without a set of religious beliefs, as the harm principle provides a system of morality to follow. However, as the basis for legislation and public policy, it is somewhat inadequate. There are, more often than not, many people with conflicting interests, and while the harm principle may form the basis of discussion, in the end an individual’s liberty may be stifled in favor of another’s. At that point, the decision has to be made as to which liberty is more important. In the case of smoking bans, an individual who derives happiness from smoking, particularly happiness from smoking in a public place, where he or she is also able to drink and socialize with friends, is taken away. At the same time, other individuals are not subjected to the possible ill health effects of secondhand smoke. The harm principle provides a useful lens through which to frame the debate, but policymakers must often make slightly messier decisions than On Liberty provides for. The very nature of public opinion as Mill saw it (which was as a tyrannical force) means that the definitions of harm will change throughout history and across geography. This leads to both sides of the smoking debate claiming Mill as a member of their side. In an interview, Mill biographer Richard Reeves, in discussing the misuse of Mill by policymakers, said that; What sometimes happens is that if you are doing something that’s actually quite paternalistic, and you don’t want to say so because you want to dress it up as a liberal policy, you might use Mill. And you stretch the harm principle well beyond reasonable usage to justify what’s fundamentally a paternalistic policy. The worst thing is to dress up a paternalistic argument in shoddy, ill-worn, liberal clothing (par. 9). Mill saw the free thought and operation of the individual as being necessary to the progress of society, and especially as a check against both the State and prevailing public opinion (19). Conclusion In this essay I have described and critically examined Mill’s harm principle and how it relates to the contemporary issue of anti-smoking laws. I have argued that the harm principle as applied to anti-smoking laws is and could be used by either side of the debate. An individual who smokes finds his or her happiness circumscribed by the happiness of those individuals who do not wish to have cigarette smoke in the public places they frequent, and vice versa. A group of individuals are going to have their liberty trespassed upon in order for other groups of individuals to retain their liberty, and rather than bringing harm to none there are only degrees of harm, which are considered more or less harmful according to the current tides of public discourse. While this creates space for a robust debate (one of the requirements of a society based on liberty), it does not provide a basis for policymakers and legislators to create public policy. Works Cited Mayes, Tessa. â€Å"Mill is a Dead White Male With Something to Say.† Spiked! Review of Books 28 March 2008. 16 April 2008  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚   books_article/4923. Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty and The Subjection of Women. New York: Penguin, 2006. Stewart, C. â€Å"The Case Against Smoking Bans.† 2002. New York City C.L.A.S.H. 18 April 2008   Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚ Wilson, Fred. â€Å"John Stuart Mill.† The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (Fall 2007).   Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚  Ã‚   Stanford University. 15 April 2008   Ã‚  Ã‚   entries/mill/.

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