A moderate pluralist approach to public health policy and ethics

Michael J. Selgelid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


This article advocates the development of a moderate pluralist theory of political philosophy that recognizes that utility, liberty and equality are legitimate, independent social values and that none should have absolute priority over the others. Inter alia, such a theory would provide a principled means for striking a balance, or making trade-offs, between these values in cases of conflict. Recent developments in public health ethics have made progress in thinking about how to make trade-offs between liberty and utility in particular. While public health ethicists often claim that the least restrictive alternative should be used to achieve the public health goal in question, I argue that a plausible but under-recognized idea is that the least restrictive alternative might sometimes involve improvement of global health via redistributive taxation - i.e., rather than coercive social distancing measures. I conclude by demonstrating that the proportionality principle leaves open the question of when exactly utility outweighs liberty or vice versa - and I argue that, rather than speaking about the morality of liberty-infringing public health interventions in categorical/binary terms, it would be more fruitful and realistic to think and speak about the degree to which a liberty-infringing public health intervention is morally appropriate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-205
Number of pages11
JournalPublic Health Ethics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes

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