In “Hard Cases for the Harm Principle,” Feinberg argues that, if our account of the
permissibility of legal coercion is going to agree with the firm intuitions we have about
certain cases, we must allow for some departures from Mill’s harm principle.
In Section 2, he argues that we must supplement the harm principle with an offense
principle. In his discussion of the offense principle, Feinberg admits that there can be
“widespread irrational prejudices” in society that cause persons “to be disgusted, shocked,
even morally repelled by perfectly innocent activities” (43). And he argues that a defensible
offense principle must not justify placing legal restrictions on material that causes this kind
of irrational offense.
Evaluate the following objection to Feinberg’s “standard of universality”: This way of addressing the concern will not work. To classify a reaction of offense as depending on an irrational prejudice to some innocent activity—as Feinberg does—is to make substantive judgments about the prejudice motivating the reaction and about the character of the activity; and whether or not the prejudice is irrational seems independent of how many people hold it (and whether or not the activity is innocent seems independent of how many people are offended by it). It is possible for almost everyone in a society to be in the grips of an irrational prejudice; in that case, then, almost everyone will mistakenly find some innocent activity disgusting, shocking, etc. But, since this widespread reaction of offense, though irrational, meets the standard of universality, Feinberg’s account will allow that the state can legally restrict such innocent activity. And this is something that he, on p. 43, is committed to guarding against. Keep in mind the specific target of this objection. It is an objection to the justification Feinberg offers for the inclusion of the standard of universality.
that is the question being asked. arguing with or against the harm principle
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