Words Will Never Hurt Me: The Harm Principle and Free Speech

Document Type


Publication Date



Arts and Humanities | Philosophy


Joseph DesJardins, Philosophy


Free speech is hailed in societies such as the United States because it promotes individuality and self-expression. However, free speech has the ability to interfere with other liberties and ought to be restricted in certain circumstances. John Stuart Mill outlined the Harm Principle in his 1859 work, On Liberty, which suggests a government may restrict an act if it is deemed harmful to another. Although Mill's ideas have greatly influenced my own, I offer a new interpretation of the Harm Principle as it applies to free speech issues. I propose the emotional harm felt from speech is an inadequate justification for silencing individuals, even if the promoted are abhorrent. My reformulation of the Harm Principle is applied to hate speech and pornography, which many deem harmful in our society. Even in these scenarios, as long as individuals aren't being harassed, threatened, or having their privacy invaded, speech must be allowed.