No Harm: Ethical Principles for a Free Market

By T. Patrick Burke | Go to book overview

7
Justice and the Principle of No Harm

LAW

The idea of justice regulates the use of force, and so is intrinsically linked with the idea of law. To say that something is unjust is by that very fact in the common understanding to say that it should be forbidden by law.

Because of their relevance to the topic of this chapter, we shall repeat here some observations made in previous chapters. All laws threaten to punish, and to do so physically.1 To make a law is to threaten to punish by the use of physical force, by means of the police, handcuffs, prison, and possibly death, those who break the law. A fine is no exception to this, for if a person refuses to pay the fine he may be taken forcibly to jail. Law can never be merely an educational tool, or a gentle suggestion. It is precisely because laws threaten punishment that justice must be enforced by law. The idea of punishment is inseparable from the idea of law and from the idea of justice.

The question as to what is just and unjust, and what laws to make and what to rescind, then, is inescapably a question about punishment. It can be formulated as the question: Who ought to be punished?

In general terms there can be only one answer to this question: those who deserve punishment. A law which punishes people who do not deserve punishment is universally felt to be unjust and intolerable. We quoted earlier the forceful statement of F. H. Bradley on this subject, but we take the liberty of repeating it here:

Punishment is punishment only when it is deserved. We pay the penalty because we owe it, and for no other reason; and if punishment is inflicted for any other reason than because it is merited by wrong, it is a gross immorality, a crying injustice, an abominable crime, and not what it pretends to be.

-177-

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No Harm: Ethical Principles for a Free Market
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Liberal Society 15
  • 2 - The Principle of Mutual Benefit 39
  • 3 - Is the Market Imperfect? 75
  • 4 - Economic Value 109
  • 5 - Causing Harm 121
  • 6 - The Individual and the Community 151
  • 7 - Justice and the Principle of No Harm 177
  • 8 - The Principle of No Harm II 207
  • 9 - The Principle of No Harm III 227
  • Notes 251
  • Bibliography 273
  • Index 283
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