The harm principle – disingenuous

By Dave Henning / February 27, 2024

“The ‘harm principle’ appears to make freedom of choice into a self-correcting absolute that gives us guidance for life together without the need for value judgments of any kind. . . .  The harm principle is useless and even disingenuous as a guide. . . .  How can you know what hurts people unless you can define what a good and thriving human life is? – Timothy Keller

Timothy Keller continues Chapter 5 of Making Sense of God as he talks about major shortcomings of the harm principle.  Ultimately freedom fails as the “magic bullet” for society.  Because even in our supposedly relativistic culture, people make value judgments all the time.  In addition, people lift up groups to shame them – on a daily basis.  And folks take moral umbrage as much as ever.

Therefore, Pastor Keller offers this critique:

“It is hypocritical to claim that today we grant people so much more freedom.  When we are actually fighting to press our moral beliefs about harm on everyone.  So freedom of choice cannot stand alone as a guide to behavior.  We need some kind of moral norms and constraints on our actions if we are to live together.”

Consequently, Pastor Keller underscores, to know the freedom of love, you must limit your choices in significant ways.  Yet, love liberates.  But the deeper and more intimate a love relationship gets, the more you must give up your independence.

So, Pastor Keller counsels, you can be in love or be free and autonomous.  But never both at the same time.  Thus, we must view love and autonomy as antithetical to each other.

In conclusion, Timothy cites Jonathan Haidt.  Writing in The Happiness Hypothesis, Haidt cautions:

“An ideology of extreme personal freedom can be dangerous because it encourages people to leave homes, jobs, cities, and marriages in search of personal and professional fulfillment, thereby breaking the relationships that were probably their best hope for such fulfillment.”

Today’s question: What problems do you see with the harm principle?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Freedom for vs. freedom from

About the author

Dave Henning

Leave a comment:

Call Now Button