In previous posts I have argued in favor of consumer constraint as a viable measure for reducing GHG emissions. Further I have noted that in a liberal democracy for such policies to gain acceptance that proper narrative framing is crucial. Some limits and controls we will accept. Others we will not. The context of how restrictive measures are presented makes the difference.
When one argues in favor of laws that limit individual agency and choice, one becomes accustomed to counter arguments based on the harm principle. This tenet posits that the actions of individuals may only be restricted to prevent harm to other individuals. One simple example often used to explain the harm principle: My right to swing my arm ends when it encounters your right not to be punched in the nose.
In defense of the harm principle, John Stuart Mill is often quoted: “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.” Or Article IV of The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is offered as a defense against restrictions: “Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others.”
Today I begin a series of posts arguing for a broader interpretation of harm in addressing several problems currently facing the ability of our species to survive. In making my case I will focus on two issues; climate change and the obesity epidemic. I will present a number of justifications for why I feel that in both case restrictive policies are warranted and ethically acceptable.
Many consider my ideas draconian and find my justifications inadequate. In live discussions with colleagues debates have often become heated and my proposals have been label “eco-tyranny” or “anti-fat fascism.” This is not surprising. Philosophers have been wielding verbal baseball bats ever since Socrates squared off against the sophists.
When considering legislation that limits personal freedom careful deliberation is clearly needed and this is best achieved through lively discourse. As I open up my ideas to a broader audience, I hope that many of you will post comments. To get the ball rolling I conclude with a quote from Goethe:
To achieve great things, we must be self-confined;
Mastery is revealed in limitation,
And the law alone can set us free.
Please leave a comment.