The harm principle as a mid-level principle? Three problems from the context of infectious disease control
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Ezio Di Nucci
Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Bioethics 25 (8):437-444 (2011)
Effective infectious disease control may require states to restrict the liberty of individuals. Since preventing harm to others is almost universally accepted as a legitimate (prima facie) reason for restricting the liberty of individuals, it seems plausible to employ a mid-level harm principle in infectious disease control. Moral practices like infectious disease control support – or even require – a certain level of theory-modesty. However, employing a mid-level harm principle in infectious disease control faces at least three problems. First, it is unclear what we gain by attaining convergence on a specific formulation of the harm principle. Likely candidates for convergence, a harm principle aimed at preventing harmful conduct, supplemented by considerations of effectiveness and always choosing the least intrusive means still leave ample room for normative disagreement. Second, while mid-level principles are sometimes put forward in response to the problem of normative theories attaching different weight to moral principles, employing a mid-level harm principle completely leaves open how to determine what weight to attach to it in application. Third, there appears to be a trade-off between attaining convergence and finding a formulation of the harm principle that can justify liberty-restrictions in all situations of contagion, including interventions that are commonly allowed. These are not reasons to abandon mid-level theorizing altogether. But there is no reason to be too theory-modest in applied ethics. Morally justifying e.g. if a liberty-restriction in infectious disease control is proportional to the aim of harm-prevention, promptly requires moving beyond the mid-level harm principle
|Keywords||liberty‐restrictions infectious disease control convergence mid‐level principles harm principle|
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M. L. Stein, B. O. Rump, M. E. E. Kretzschmar & J. E. van Steenbergen (2014). Social Networking Sites as a Tool for Contact Tracing: Urge for Ethical Framework for Normative Guidance. Public Health Ethics 7 (1):57-60.
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