Res Publica 20 (2):199-214 (2014)

Thomas Søbirk Petersen
Roskilde University
Several liberal philosophers and penal theorists have argued that the state has a reason to prohibit acts that harm individuals. But what is harm? According to one specification of harm, a person P is harmed by an act a iff, as a result of a, P is made worse off in terms of well-being. One central question here involves the baseline against which we assess whether someone is ‘worse off’. In other words, when a person is harmed he is worse off, certainly—but what is worse off a variation from? A central part of the paper critically discusses different answers to this question based on versions of what we can call: the temporal baseline, the baseline from mankind and the counterfactual baseline. Essentially, it will be argued that the counterfactual baseline leaves us with a better understanding of harming than the other baselines discussed. The final part of the paper will describe some of the implications of our investigation for the application and evaluation of the view that harm matters in the justification of which type of acts should be criminalized by the state. The overall conclusion of the paper is that adherents of a view like the harm principle face a dilemma. Either they can accept the counterfactual baseline but then, they can do without the harm principle. Or they can reject the counterfactual baseline—but then they will have to formulate an alternative baseline which, as will be shown in the paper, is no easy task
Keywords Baseline of harm  Criminalization theory  Counter factual baseline  Moralized harm  Harm  The harm principle
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s11158-013-9235-5
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 68,908
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - New York: Basic Books.
The Morality of Freedom.Joseph Raz - 1986 - Oxford University Press.
World Poverty and Human Rights.Thomas Pogge - 2002 - Ethics and International Affairs 19 (1):1-7.
What is This Thing Called Happiness?Fred Feldman - 2010 - Oxford University Press.
Harm to Others.Martin P. Golding - 1987 - Philosophical Review 96 (2):295-298.

View all 16 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Prostitution, Disability and Prohibition.Frej Klem Thomsen - 2015 - Journal of Medical Ethics 41 (6):451-459.
A Hybrid Account of Harm.Charlotte Franziska Unruh - forthcoming - Australasian Journal of Philosophy:1-14.

View all 7 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

The Harm Principle.Nils Holtug - 2002 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 5 (4):357-389.
A Defense of the Counterfactual Comparative Account of Harm.Justin Klocksiem - 2012 - American Philosophical Quarterly 49 (4):285 – 300.
Why Self-Ownership is Prescriptively Impotent.Evan Fox-Decent - 1998 - Journal of Value Inquiry 32 (4):489-506.
The Limits of the Harm Principle.Hamish Stewart - 2010 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 4 (1):17-35.
Mortal Harm.Steven Luper - 2007 - Philosophical Quarterly 57 (227):239–251.
The Moral Status of Enabling Harm.Samuel C. Rickless - 2011 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 92 (1):66-86.
The Comparative Nature of Punishment.Adam J. Kolber - 2009 - Boston University Law Review 89 (5):1565-1608.
The Moral Foundation of the Precautionary Principle.Karsten Klint Jensen - 2002 - Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 15 (1):39-55.
The Last Word on Coercive Offers …(?).Daniel Lyons - 1982 - Philosophy Research Archives 8:393-414.
Identifying Harms.Shlomit Harrosh - 2012 - Bioethics 26 (9):493-498.


Added to PP index

Total views
106 ( #108,811 of 2,497,766 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
5 ( #140,171 of 2,497,766 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes