The cat i' the adage

"The growth of knowledge depends entirely on disagreement" Karl Popper (1902 - 1994)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Smoking and liberalism

Thinking about the government moves to ban smoking in enclosed public spaces I sought out the classical statement of liberal principles

The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him, must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

John Stuart Mill from the Introduction to "On Liberty"

I do not smoke myself. I do not think it wise to smoke. But I do not think it is necessary to be wise. Only if smoking were the cause of harm to others would a liberal feel it right to restrict the smoker's chosen behaviour. Many of us, of a liberal persuasion, are prepared to put up with some inconvenience from inhaling second hand smoke, but evidence connecting passive smoking with disease and death would change the argument crucially. Does such evidence exist? I haven't looked for a while and need to remind myself of the basis for the claim. Were my own liberties under attack from what purports to be science I hope others would think the facts worthy of proper scrutiny.


At 13 January 2005 at 15:43, Blogger Jorgen said...

Labour wants to ban smoking to live up to the wise words: "When socialists legislate, nobodys life, liberty or property is safe."

There is no scientific evidence that passive smoking endangers anyone. There is consesus between some scientists that it can cause cancer. However, history is full of examples where "consensus science" (which includes global warming and secondhand smoking) is dead wrong. Science that cannot be proven is not science, but religion. I am a former heavy smoker but like you, I accept others right to smoke.

At 13 January 2005 at 17:49, Blogger rexie said...

"History is full of examples where "consensus science" (which includes global warming and secondhand smoking) is dead wrong".

Agreed, and I would add the diet-heart hypothesis


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