SOPhiA 2018

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Libertarianism and Collective Action: Is there a Libertarian Case for Mandatory Vaccination?
(Political Philosophy & Philosophy of Law, English)

Non-vaccination can lead to harmful outbreaks of preventable disease: currently there are a rising number of measles cases in Europe, and Italy has measles vaccination rates as low as 85%. Mandatory vaccination could be used to prevent such outbreaks, and so powerful political arguments in favour of mandatory vaccination would be very useful. In his paper "A libertarian case for mandatory vaccination", Jason Brennan argues that even libertarians, who are very averse to coercive measures, should support mandatory vaccination. He argues that libertarians should accept the clean hands principle, which would justify mandatory vaccination. The principle states that there is a (sometimes enforceable) moral obligation not to participate in collectively harmful activities. Once libertarians accept the principle, they will be compelled to support mandatory vaccination. I argue that the cases Brennan uses to justify this principle are disanalogous to the case of non-vaccination, and that they are not compelling to libertarians. The cases Brennan offers can be explained by a libertarian using what I call the individual sufficiency principle: which states that if an individual's action is sufficient to cause harm then there is a (sometimes enforceable) moral obligation not to carry out that action. I argue that this principle is more appealing to libertarians than the clean hands principle, and more appropriate for Brennan's examples. In order to get libertarians to accept the clean hands principle, I present a modified version of one of Brennan's cases that is analogous to the case of non-vaccination. Using this case, I argue that whether the clean hands principle will justify mandatory vaccination is dependent on whether the herd immunity rate in a given population is approaching a threshold after which a collective risk of harm will be imposed onto others. While making this argument, I consider the collective action structure of non-vaccination and the complexities of theories of acceptable risk.

Chair: Martina Valkovic
Time: 11:20-11:50, 14 September 2018 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.007

Charlie Thomas Blunden 
(Utrecht University, Netherlands)

My name is Charlie Blunden, I am originally from the UK, and am currently a student at Utrecht University, studying for the Research Master in Philosophy. I obtained my BA in Philosophy at the University of Reading, writing my thesis under the supervision of Dr. Nat Hansen. My thesis topic was on the ethics of nudging, particularly with reference to value pluralism and the philosophy of Isaiah Berlin. I am interested in ethics and political philosophy, but my research interests are still evolving: recently I have become very interested in Bernard Williams, David Hume, and empirical moral psychology. I hope to pursue a PhD in Philosophy after my RMA, or otherwise to work in policy formation in the UK public sector.

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