Harm principle

More than harm : a critical analysis of the harm principle in Regan's thinking

Keerus, K., Gjerris, M., & Röcklinsberg, H. (2013) 
The ethics of consumption: The citizen, the market and the law. Wageningen Academic Publishers.


Tom Regan encapsulated his principle of harm as a prima facie direct duty not to harm those individuals who have an experiential welfare. However, his consideration of deprivational harm, the examples of which is loss of freedom or death, can easily be interpreted as harm which is not experienced by its subject. This creates a gap between Regan’s criterion for moral status and his account of what our duties are. We discuss how Regan’s understanding of harm relates to his claim that animals should be taken into consideration because it matters to them what happens to them and compare his account of harm with three basic paradigms of welfare known in animal welfare science: the feelings-based, functioning-based and natural-living-based paradigms. We argue that Regan’s account coheres with feelings-based paradigm and his account of deprivational harm does not exclude the possibility to interpret this as experiential, too. We will show a potential source for the confusion: in convincing his readers that certain cases of deprivation constitute harm to individuals even if they never experience it as such, Regan avails of the evaluative use of the term ‘harm’: something is called harm only if it is (implicitly) decided to be wrong. Due to his ambition to argue for direct duties towards animals, Regan too easily casts off the alternative and – from our perspective – better reasons for considering the alleged acts of unexperienced and unknown deprivation wrong.

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