How Useful Is Harm Principle in Helping Us Define the Limits of Free Speech

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That 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. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right…The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns him, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign”. (Myers, 1999).Put in a nutshell the Harm Principle can be taken as the liberty for an individual to act in a manner that makes the individual happy, so long as these actions do not cause harm to another individual, and that society and the state may act in a coercive manner against the individual only if harm to others can be prevented. (Holtug, 2002).In a liberal society, the issue of free speech has remained a controversial issue. When the liberty of expression is not valued in a society, then free speech is hardly an issue, as free speech can be curtailed giving precedence to any of the competing values. The controversy arises only when freedom of speech is of high value in society. For in that case any limitation to free speech becomes contentious. There has been hardly any society in which free speech has nit been interfered with in some manner or the other. John Mill in his On Liberty points out that in any society there are tugs and pulls between the competing demands of liberty and authority and there cannot be one without the other.The concept of pure unadulterated free speech in any society, therefore, remains an illusion. Free speech thus becomes a value that is subject to the other values in society.