Moral disagreements often revolve around the issue of harm to others. Identifying harms, however, is a contested enterprise. This paper provides a conceptual toolbox for identifying harms, and so possible wrongdoing, by drawing several distinctions. First, I distinguish between four modes of human vulnerability, forming four ways in which one can be in a harmed state. Second, I argue for the intrinsic disvalue of harm and so distinguish the presence of harm from the fact that it is instrumental to or constitutive of a valued act, practice or way of life. Finally, I distinguish between harm and wrongdoing, arguing that while harm is a normative concept requiring justification, not all harmed states are automatically unjustified. The advantage of this view is that it refocuses the moral debate on the normative issues involved while establishing a common basis to which both sides can agree: the presence of harm to others.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: University of Oxford
Publication date: November 1, 2012