Liberalism and Public Health Ethics

Bioethics 30 (2):96-108 (2016)

Abstract

Many public health dilemmas involve a tension between the promotion of health and the rights of individuals. This article suggests that we should resolve the tension using our familiar liberal principles of government. The article considers the common objections that liberalism is incompatible with standard public health interventions such as anti-smoking measures or intervention in food markets; there are special reasons for hard paternalism in public health; and liberalism is incompatible with proper protection of the community good. The article argues that we should examine these critiques in a larger methodological framework by first acknowledging that the right theory of public health ethics is the one we arrive at in reflective equilibrium. Once we examine the arguments for and against liberalism in that light, we can see the weaknesses in the objections and the strength of the case for liberalism in public health.

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Alex Rajczi
Claremont McKenna College

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