Public Health Ethics 12 (3):213-224 (2019)

In contrast to medical care, which is focused on the individual patient, public health is focused on collective health. This article argues that, in order to better protect the individual, discussions of public health would benefit from incorporating the insights of virtue ethics. There are three reasons to for this. First, the collective focus may cause neglect of the effects of public health policy on the interests and rights of individuals and minorities. Second, whereas the one-on-one encounters in medical care facilitate a compassionate and caring attitude, public health involves a distance between professionals and the public. Therefore, public health professionals must use imagination and care to evaluate the effects of policies on individuals. Third, the relationship between public health professionals and the people who are affected by the policies they design is characterized by power asymmetry, demanding a high level of responsibility from those who wield them. Against this background, it is argued that public health professionals should develop the virtues of responsibility, compassion and humility. The examples provided, i.e. breastfeeding information and vaccination policy, illustrate the importance of these virtues, which needed for normative as well as instrumental reasons, i.e. as a way to restore trust.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1093/phe/phz007
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 63,194
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Principles of Biomedical Ethics.Tom L. Beauchamp - 1979 - Oxford University Press.
The Emotions.Nico H. Frijda - 1986 - Cambridge University Press.
Philosophical investigations.Ludwig Wittgenstein & G. E. M. Anscombe - 1953 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 161:124-124.
Intelligent Virtue.Julia Annas - 2011 - Oxford University Press.

View all 52 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Law, Virtue, and Public Health Powers.Eric C. Ip - forthcoming - Public Health Ethics.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Public Health Ethics: The Voices of Practitioners.Ruth Gaare Bernheim - 2003 - Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 31 (s4):104-109.
From Health Care Reform to Public Health Reform.Micah L. Berman - 2011 - Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 39 (3):328-339.
Public Health and Public Goods.Jonny Anomaly - 2011 - Public Health Ethics 4 (3):251-259.
Public Health and Normative Public Goods.Richard H. Dees - 2018 - Public Health Ethics 11 (1):20-26.
Ethics and Public Health Emergencies: Encouraging Responsibility.Matthew K. Wynia - 2007 - American Journal of Bioethics 7 (4):1 – 4.
Health Care as a Public Good.Milton Fisk - 1996 - Journal of Social Philosophy 27 (3):14-40.
Food and Beverage Policies and Public Health Ethics.David B. Resnik - 2015 - Health Care Analysis 23 (2):122-133.


Added to PP index

Total views
32 ( #339,167 of 2,448,326 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
4 ( #180,150 of 2,448,326 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes