News Round-Up

To stop mass extinction, reform the outdated Victorian harm principle


In 1859, the English philosopher John Stuart Mill published the first of his two major works, On Liberty, which helped him become, as many agree, the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the 19th century. In that essay, Mill defined what came to be known as the harm principle. Stated briefly, it says:

“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

Today we might baulk at Mill’s use of “civilised” and “his” in this sentence, yet the general principle quickly came to dominate all legal debates about crime and the justice system. Liberal democracies the world over enshrined – and largely still use – this idea to give individuals the freedom to generally do as they please. But this ignored a deeper problem — the definition of “harm” itself. MORE

Header image: There are only two northern white rhinos left alive in the world – and both are female. Credit: Dai Kurokawa/EPA-DAI.