Thursday, May 23, 2013
A Note on the "Harm Principle"
Harold E. French, Jr., has written a book called Anarchist Solidarity.
According to Harold French's statements on Facebook, and elsewhere, one of the most important concepts in this book is what Mr. French calls "the harm principle." Oddly, for such a critical concept, the "harm principle" is mentioned only three times in the index to Anarchist Solidarity (page 277). There are references to pages 203 and 204, to page 245, and this item: "explained, 22." Therefore, one would expect to find, on page 22, an explanation of the harm principle.
When one looks at page 22 or Mr. French's book, one finds that the index is incorrect. There is a section entitled The Harm Principle, but it begins on page 21 and continues on page 22. This section reads, in its entirety:
The Harm Principle
Individuals grow, develop, and mature in a variety of ways. We do this because of our genetic make up[sic]. All healthy human babies develop the capacity for language at approximately the same time. Children are able to separate reality from fantasy at approximately the same age. They develop the capacity for moral reasoning at approximately the same age. The exact onset of puberty, the exact end of physical growth, and the exact psychological growth and development curve of all humans is approximately the same. * All of this is grounded in genetics, and the study of human growth and development is a science. In order to flourish[,] a plant requires a certain type of soil, the right amount of water, light, humidity, temperature, et cetera; in the same way, all human beings need certain things to live well. The theoretical point I am trying to make is that, like the plant, what constitutes full psychological and biological development of a human individual is genetically determined. You need to ask yourself whether you agree, or at least ask yourself if you see what I am pointing to. Basically, I am saying the process of growing from an infant into a physically and emotionally mature adult requires certain things. Those things are called goods.** Anything that interferes with this natural process of growth into an emotionally and physically mature adult is said to cause harm.
Please bear in mind that there is a distinction between stress and harm. Exercise stresses the muscles, but this is what makes them grow strong. A plant's roots grow deeper because of water stress. The absence of harm does not mean the absence of stress; however, too much stress is harmful.
That is all Harold French says about the "harm principle" at this point in his book, Anarchist Solidarity. I think it is obvious that, far from explaining this principle Mr. French does not even state a principle regarding harm. Rather, he has merely strung together some statements about what might be considered harmful in relation to normal human development.
*Why, then, does Mr. French state that individuals grow in a variety of ways? All of his examples point to all individuals developing in very much the same way.
**If natural growth is genetically determined, in the strict sense, then no goods are required. In fact, maturation and development occur as a result of a complex interaction between genetics and the environment, and genetics alone are not determinative.