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The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law Volume 1: Harm to Others$
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Joel Feinberg

Print publication date: 1987

Print ISBN-13: 9780195046649

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0195046641.001.0001

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Assessing and Comparing Harms

Assessing and Comparing Harms

(p.187) 5 Assessing and Comparing Harms
The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law Volume 1: Harm to Others

Joel Feinberg

Oxford University Press

Formulates some “mediating maxims” to guide a legislature in applying the harm principle to difficult cases. Supplemental criteria that restrict the application of the harm principle include the magnitude of the harm committed, the probability of the harm occurring, the relative importance of the harm, and the aggregative nature of the harm. The greater the probability of harm, for example, the less grave the harm need be to justify coercion. In addition to such moral principles, practical reasons and rules of common sense are relevant to the application of the harm principle. Since a limitation on liberty is itself a harm, the state is justified by the harm principle in invading citizens’ interests in liberty only if this action outweighs the greater harm that would be caused by proscribed actions.

Keywords:   coercion, harm principle, liberty, mediating maxims, moral principles, practical reasons

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