“It’s fine as long as you don’t hurt anybody”

Whether from a general principle or a specific case like the individual use of the internet, there is a moral claim that is usually made. The question is: how could rival ethical theories evaluate the following statement from a contemporary discussion of the ethics of individual internet use? The claim or principle is: “There is nothing morally wrong with an activity as long as it does not hurt anyone.” I think we can evaluate this claim (let’s call it the N.H.N.F.-No harm, no foul principle) by different normative theories of ethics, and then we can apply the general principles of each ethical theory. Let’s start from a deontological point of view.

On the deontological view of ethics, morality is about duties, obligations, and rights. So, I think the deontologist could object to moral claim of N.H.N.F. by saying that it seems that all humans have intrinsic worth. That intrinsic worth that makes obligations as long we have the ability to do in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. Plausibly then, we would also have obligations to ourselves. We would have obligations not to harm ourselves because we are human beings with great worth. Also, om Kant’s Categorical Imperative we couldn’t will self-harm to be a universal law. Why is that? Because we would be willing that everyone self-harm themselves which would mean we are not respecting others (respect for others is an obligation). In addition, if we universally willed self-harm, then is self-harm still even a coherent notion? On a certain consequentialist theory, egoism, I don’t think there would be any problem because on such a view one would seek to do what is best for oneself. Not only that, but the egoist might not even care (nor should they on their view?) about the clause in the N.H.N.F. claim regarding hurting others! On a utilitarian view, I can see the N.H.N.F. principle being true in general. The idea is that one can do what one wants if it doesn’t hurt anyone, unless the greatest good for the greatest number of people is not obtained. If the greatest good for the greatest number of people is not attained, then we’ve done something wrong the utilitarian view.

There might be exceptions, but the idea is that the principle isn’t wholly incompatible with utilitarianism. Given some of these theories, we see how some of them are in some sense incompatible with the N.H.N.F. claim/principle. Given the general framework of these theories, we can apply their framework to individual cases like individual internet use. The idea is that the internet case is a particular instantiation of the ‘No Harm, No Foul’ principle. So if the principle doesn’t work, then one can’t apply the principle in the internet case. Likewise, if the principle is true and compatible with a certain normative ethical theory, we can apply the principle


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