First, Do No Harm

Can the principle of 'Ahimsa' be a fundamental driver to resolve climate change?
Research Paper

First, Do No Harm

Doctors take a Hippocratic oath to 'Do No harm' but should this pledge only be limited to those in the medical profession?

The Harm Principle

Before we delve deeper into the above, let us define some other key terms. It is clear that human beings are driven to maximise their utility. Human nature is such that there are elements of us that would even cause harm to others in order to maximise our own personal utility. To rectify or regulate such harmful behaviours towards fellow human beings, societies have put the state in charge to curtail our liberties. 

One justification for the state to curtail our freedoms is based on the harm principle - first articulated by the English philosopher, John Stuart Mills in 1859.

In today’s world, which is ever more global and interconnected, where causality can be hard to pin down and the temporal impact of our actions will spill to future generations, we wonder whether Mills’ harm principle and by extension, legal enforcement of morality is sufficient.

Governement Control is unsustainable

Here is where it becomes problematic on its own:

- It places ownership on another entity (namely the state) to minimise harm; a reliance which is unstable and can change based on new laws and the degree of intrinsic morality of leaders.

- The resources to regulate and penalise harmful behaviour can be underestimated and puts constraints on the sustainability of such measures.

- It assumes a clear causality between the ‘harmer’ and the ‘harmed’.

- It allows individuals to cause as much harm as possible, so long as it is within the law, or before they are caught out.

What we see from this is that, though legal enforcement, based on (derivations of) the harm principle are essential, they have limitations and not sufficient in securing a world free from harm.

The Ahimsa Principle

Where the harm principle’s central tenet focuses on preventing harm to other individuals, Ahimsa takes a broader stance. Ahimsa concerns our thoughts, speech and actions; not only towards other humans but towards all living beings, inclusive of nature. The Mahabharata, an ancient Hindu text explains Ahimsa and praises its importance. 

Causing no harm to any living being, or at least as little harm as possible, is the way of life that represents the highest expression of Dharma.

Download the paper to read more about the Ahimsa Principle and how it can inform the climate debate.

Further Resources and Footnotes

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