Law of equal liberty

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The law of equal liberty (a.k.a. the law of equal freedom), or equal liberty, is a doctrine first named, though not first conceived, by Herbert Spencer in Social Statics (1851) which says "that every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty to every other man." Stated another way by Spencer, "each has freedom to do all that he wills provided that he infringes not the equal freedom of any other."[1]

Spencer derived the principle on a belief in the principles of scientific evolution. He believed that human happiness was an intrinsically developed emotion. He held that "man's purpose can be obtained only by the exercise of his faculties" and therefore that exercise must be a human right. Restraining the liberty of someone else prevents him from pursuing happiness. In order for this to be a universal ethic, or a moral code that applies to all individuals rather than just some, it would have to apply to all individuals. Therefore, if an individual restrains another individual from doing the same, then he has overstepped his rights. As a result, rights are equalized among all people.

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  1. ^ Herbert Spencer, Social Statics, c. 4, § 3.