Must We Pay for the British Museum? Taxation and the Harm Principle

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


One of the best known and most influential ideas in the history of liberal political philosophy is the harm principle. State coercion can only be legitimately imposed to prevent harm to others, as John Stuart Mill famously argued. Joel Feinberg in his four-volume magnum opusnum opus spent much of his career exploring the implications of the harm principle for the criminal law. Feinberg’ s work has proved valuable both for those sympathetic to the idea that the principle is a fundamental constraint on criminalization and for those opposed to that idea. Far less studied is the potential place of the harm principle in the context of taxation. This paper attempts to reflect on the matter by focusing primarily on the legitimacy of taxes raised to support high culture, esoteric scholarly activities, and so on. I consider especially two versions of the harm principle, Feinberg’ s own and that of Joseph Raz.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhilosophical Foundations of Tax Law
EditorsMonica Bhandari
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780192519368
ISBN (Print)9780198798439
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2017

Publication series

NamePhilosophical Foundations of Law
PublisherOxford University Press


  • Law
  • Philosophy of Law
  • Tax law
  • Harm principle
  • Taxation
  • Public expenditure
  • Liberalism


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