Journal Article

Liberty, Mill and the Framework of Public Health Ethics

Madison Powers, Ruth Faden and Yashar Saghai

in Public Health Ethics

Volume 5, issue 1, pages 6-15
Published in print April 2012 | ISSN: 1754-9973
Published online February 2012 | e-ISSN: 1754-9981 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/phe/phs002
Liberty, Mill and the Framework of Public Health Ethics

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  • Philosophy of Science
  • Philosophy of Biology
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In this article, we address the relevance of J.S. Mill’s political philosophy for a framework of public health ethics. In contrast to some readings of Mill, we reject the view that in the formulation of public policies liberties of all kinds enjoy an equal presumption in their favor. We argue that Mill also rejects this view and discuss the distinction that Mill makes between three kinds of liberty interests: interests that are immune from state interference; interests that enjoy a presumption in favor of liberty; and interests that enjoy no such presumption. We argue that what is of focal importance for Mill in protecting liberty is captured by the essential role that the value of self-determination plays in human well-being. Finally, we make the case for the plausibility of a more complex and nuanced Millian framework for public health ethics that would modify how the balancing of some liberty and public health interests should proceed by taking the thumb off the liberty end of the scale. Mill’s arguments and the legacy of liberalism support certain forms of state interference with marketplace liberties for the sake of public health objectives without any presumption in favor of liberty.

Journal Article.  7753 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Philosophy of Biology ; Bioethics and Medical Ethics ; Medical Ethics ; Public Health

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