Published online in 2022
Abstract: Contemporary ethical reflections on responses to public health crises center on the deontological, utilitarian, and principlist traditions, but not the more ancient tradition of natural law. Yet, as an alternative to the usual framing of public health moral dilemmas as a conflict between individual liberty and collective interests, or trade-offs in the maximization of the greatest health of the greatest number, natural law ethics deserves a hearing for focusing on human fulfilment instantiated in the irreducible human goods. The irreducible goods such as life and health, friendship and community, excellence and satisfaction in work and play, knowledge of the truth, experience of the beauty, and practical reasonableness, each features its own domain for people to flourish in, distinct from and incommensurable with all the other goods. This Article is the first to bring this neoclassical natural law ethical framework to bear on the morality of public health lockdowns––a previously unthinkable, blunt, but consequential emergency measure that originated with the Chinese government’s initial response in January 2020 to Wuhan’s COVID-19 outbreak, but subsequently spread to all inhabited continents, putting billions of people under mandatory quarantine over prolonged periods. This Article affirms that public health lockdowns are not intrinsically immoral, insofar as they meet several conditions required by the fundamental precepts of natural law.
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