Standard Article

Harm Principle

  1. C. L. Ten

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee285

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Ten, C. L. 2013. Harm Principle. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


The harm principle is most closely associated with John Stuart Mill's (1806–73) defense of individual liberty in his famous essay On Liberty (1859), although he himself did not give it that name (see Harm; Mill, John Stuart). Mill wanted to set certain limits to “social control” over the conduct of individuals, and he proposed the harm principle as the “one very simple principle” for that purpose: “That principle is, 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. That 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” (1977: 223).


  • legal and political;
  • normative ethics