Ethics Discussion Forum, July 21-22: “Freedom and Viruses” by Kieran Oberman, with a Critical Précis by Ian Carter

Welcome to our latest Ethics discussion forum, on Kieran Oberman’s “Freedom and Viruses,” kicked off with a precis by Ian Carter. Take it away, Ian!

In this excellent article, Kieran Oberman aims to contest the common view, encountered in much of political discourse, that the lockdown, in the recent pandemic, traded off freedom against other values, such as health or economic prosperity. He pursues this aim with admirable clarity and rigor, assuming more than one possible conception of freedom and demonstrating in each case the falsity of the claim that lockdowns sacrifice freedom for other goods.

Kieran’s first and most important point, which covers the first eight sections of the article, is about the effect of lockdowns on negative freedom. He rightly gives more space to this conception because it is the one implicitly assumed in claims about freedom being traded off.

Negative freedom is here conceived as the absence of external constraints imposed by others (intentionally or unintentionally). It is freedom understood as a social relation. Simplifying somewhat, these constraints make it impossible for the agent to do certain things, or sets of things, and might consist either in physical barriers or the threat of sanctions. On this conception of freedom, lockdowns certainly restrict freedom to an enormous extent.

Naturally caused diseases, on the other hand, make people unable to do certain things, but not unfree to do them, for it is only actions of other people that count as sources of negative unfreedom. So it looks as if viruses, like other naturally caused obstacles, don’t restrict negative freedom. And this explains why many people see the issue as a trade-off between health and freedom: lockdowns restrict negative freedom, viruses do not.

As Kieran points out, however, spreading a virus is an action performed by someone. And viruses disable people, making many actions impossible or costly; or they kill people, drastically restricting their action possibilities to those occurring within a shorter lifespan. If I start an avalanche, disabling or killing some rock climbers down the hill below me, I harness the forces of nature, intentionally or unintentionally, in a way that removes action possibilities on their part. Those forces of nature would not have such an effect if it weren’t for my action of starting the avalanche. The action of moving around in a crowded space when I have a potentially lethal virus is similar to my action of starting the avalanche.

Kieran discusses, and rebuts, a series of objections to his claim that ‘viruses restrict freedom’. Here are the ones I consider most important, or at least most helpful in further clarifying his position.

First, it might be objected that viruses are really internal constraints, not external ones, since they occur inside the agent’s body. The answer to this objection is that we need to look at sources of constraints, not just at their location. If I shoot you in the leg, making it impossible for you to walk, we would not deny that I restrict your freedom, even though the bullet that disables you is located inside your body. The location of the constraint is internal, but the source is external and consists in the action of another person. Spreading a virus is no different.

Another objection might be raised by appeal to a more refined analysis of the sources of interpersonal unfreedom. Some theorists of negative freedom claim that obstacle-causing actions restrict freedom only if someone can be held morally responsible for their obstructive effects. If we assume this moral-responsibility account of the sources of unfreedom, it might seem that we can only claim that virus-spreading actions amount to restrictions of others’ freedom if the spreaders realize exactly what they are doing. However, even on the moral-responsibility account, virus spreaders are generally morally responsible for the effects of their actions: if they do not know what they are risking, they ought to know. (There will be exceptions, as at the very beginning of the covid pandemic when people lacked the relevant knowledge.)

To be sure, potential victims are risking infection when they go out. And one might object on this basis that the victims’ disabilities are self-inflicted rather than brought about by other people: if they hadn’t gone out, they would not have become infected. But, as Kieran points out, while the potential victims take a risk in going out, they themselves do not create the risk. Imagine that the land around your house were full of dangerous holes previously dug by other people. You can’t go out without risking falling into one of the holes. Still, if you choose to go out, and fall into one of the holes, and break your leg, your inability to walk counts as an unfreedom created by those who dug the holes. The same point applies to the risk of infection when you go out.

Kieran concludes that, while lockdowns restrict freedom, so do viruses. One might contest the wording of this conclusion. The actions of virus-spreaders restrict freedom. Viruses themselves don’t restrict freedom. Kieran’s answer to this objection is that, if we can’t say that viruses restrict freedom, then we can’t say that prisons or lockdowns restrict freedom either. Well, I don’t think prisons restrict freedom; I think prison guards do. Lockdowns, by contrast, are sets of coercive actions. Viruses are not sets of actions, though they are spread by actions. As I said earlier, viral infections, like avalanches, are forces of nature that human actions might or might not harness. Naturally caused avalanches do not restrict negative freedom, and similarly a naturally caused virus does not restrict the negative freedom of patient zero. But this is a minor quibble on my part. The substance of Kieran’s arguments about the effect of virus spreading on negative freedom seems to me correct.

Assuming, with Kieran, that a lockdown effectively limits the spread of a disabling virus, its overall effect on freedom is somewhat complex. Lockdowns restrict freedom, but they also limit the restrictions of freedom created by viruses. Moreover, if lockdowns make it safer to move around when you do go out, then they preserve certain freedoms that would otherwise be restricted. So there is no simple trade-off. Kieran is surely right that we should not simply compare freedom under the lockdown to freedom before the pandemic. Instead, we should compare the sorry state of freedom under the lockdown with the sorry state of freedom under the pandemic unchecked by the lockdown. This is more tragic, but also more realistic.

All of the above discussion concerns nonnormative freedom, that is, freedom understood as a fact about the physical prevention of actions. Perhaps, Kieran wonders, the freedom-based objection to lockdowns can instead be formulated in terms of normative freedom, by which he means, more specifically, moral freedom. Moral freedom is the presence of moral permissions, or the absence of moral prohibitions. The idea, then, is that lockdowns restrict people’s moral freedom by creating, through an exercise of moral authority, moral obligations to stay at home. To be sure, people already have moral obligations to engage in social distancing before the exercise of this authority takes place, but lockdowns can create new duties to ensure coordination, protect the most vulnerable, and so on. So lockdowns do seem to create moral unfreedoms without creating any moral freedoms.

Kieran has some sympathy with this argument, as he considers moral freedom to be important in itself. He also notes, correctly, that he differs from most theorists of freedom in this sense. Most political philosophers who theorize about freedom – myself included – are interested primarily in nonnormative freedom. The reason for this is that we consider nonnormative freedom to be a value on the basis of which we can assess certain structures of normative claims, liberties, powers and immunities – in short, certain structures of rights, whether moral or legal. Nonnormative freedom is more basic, normatively speaking. I don’t really see a challenge to this view of the primacy of nonnormative freedom in Kieran’s argument, despite his professed belief that moral freedom is important in itself.

In any case, Kieran thinks that even the objection to lockdowns based on moral freedom ultimately fails. The reason is that he thinks viruses, no less than lockdowns, restrict moral freedom. Viruses impose all the social-distancing duties, mentioned above, that preexisted the lockdown. Moreover, the lockdown ‘liberates’ us from some of those duties: by flattening the curve, it introduces the prospect of a return to more normal, less socially distanced relations.

Despite caring less than Kieran does about moral freedom in itself, I am not entirely convinced by his argument that viruses restrict moral freedom in no less serious a way than government-imposed lockdowns do. Kieran holds that it is not worse to have one’s moral freedom restricted by a virus than by an exercise of authority. I am not sure why he thinks this. I would have thought that, just as in the case of nonnormative freedom, we resent restrictions created by other people in a way that we don’t resent restrictions created by nature. This distinction forms the very basis of the negative conception of nonnormative freedom understood as a social relation. Why should normative freedom be different?

Finally, Kieran asks whether one can complain that lockdowns produce an overall reduction in freedom if, instead of the negative conception, one assumes the republican conception of freedom as nondomination. On the republican conception, in order to be free, one must not merely enjoy noninterference on the part of others, or a high probability of such non-interference; that noninterference must be guaranteed, by suitable constraints on possible interferers.

Far from generating a complaint about lockdowns, Kieran argues, the republican theory supports lockdowns. But there is more: it in fact takes us too far, as the theory supports lockdowns even when they seem to be unjustified – as, for example, where voluntary social distancing would be sufficient to limit the spread of the virus. On the republican theory, before the lockdown each infectious person is “dominating” those who might be infected. On the negative conception of freedom, those infectious people are not restricting others’ freedom if they voluntary stay at home or take other measures to avoid infecting others. But for the republican, this behavior is insufficient to guarantee freedom as non-domination: the infectious, indeed all possibly infectious people, need to be constrained against infecting others. This is an interesting implication, and a helpful contribution to the so-called ‘liberal-republican’ debate.

The implication amounts to a critique of the republican conception – a critique I’m very sympathetic to, having published arguments against the coherence of the ideal of ‘freedom as non-domination’ that point in a similar direction. The requirement that non-interference be not only highly probable, but also guaranteed by people’s incapacity to interfere, is pointlessly overdemanding and in many ways counterintuitive. ‘Republicans should feel uncomfortable about supporting lockdowns that are unnecessary to combat viruses’ – a nice example of British understatement.

The article contains a brief final section on an empirical question that the above discussion ignores: lockdowns are just one of an extensive set of government measures that have restricted freedom over the last two decades. The argument here is similar to that advanced by some critics of the security measures that followed the terrorist attacks at the beginning of this century: once governments acquire new powers, they are very reluctant to given them up, and are indeed happy to expand them further. Moreover, lockdowns have ‘normalized’ restrictions of freedom that were unthinkable before the pandemic. As a result, people have become more tolerant of such restrictions. I see this change among my students in Pavia when I ask them to vote, as I have done over the years, on the acceptability of restrictions of Rawlsian basic liberties if such restrictions would permit the pursuit of certain other social goals: their tolerance of unfreedom has increased notably over the last three years.

While he wisely avoids pronouncing on this empirical question, Kieran seems mildly optimistic about the long-term noxious effects of lockdowns compared to more targeted measures such as selective quarantining or surveillance. Lockdowns are at least visible and ‘create a large constituency with an interest in their removal’. Fair enough. But I remain less optimistic, because of their normalizing effect.

More generally, I think this slippery-slope empirical argument is the one that has most potential as a freedom-based complaint against lockdowns. It assumes the negative conception with which we started, and it survives all the purely conceptual objections that Kieran carefully and correctly rebuts. It also suggests taking very seriously the hypothesis, touched on only incidentally in the section on republican freedom, that in terms of the long-term overall effect on freedom, non-coercive guidelines might sometimes be preferable even where the immediate balance in terms of freedom seems to favor a lockdown.

40 Replies to “Ethics Discussion Forum, July 21-22: “Freedom and Viruses” by Kieran Oberman, with a Critical Précis by Ian Carter

  1. Let me be the first to contribute by correcting an error in my précis! In connection with normative unfreedom I wrote: “I would have thought that, just as in the case of nonnormative freedom, we resent restrictions created by other people in a way that we don’t resent restrictions created by nature.” There’s nothing wrong with that sentence in itself, but it gives the false impression that I also think that the spreading of a virus is a fact of nature. The question is more complicated than that: the creation of normative unfreedoms through actions that spread viruses fits neither into the category of exercises of authority, nor into that of natural causes. This is especially clear if we think about the early days of the covid pandemic. In any case, I still think normative unfreedoms created through inappropriate exercises of government authority, legal or moral, can appropriately occasion resentment in a way that virus spreading (especially in the early days of the covid pandemic) ought not to.

  2. I have not, so far, managed to read Kieran’s original article, and am relying on Ian Carter’s precis of it. Based on the precis, I have the following questions to Kieran (or also to Ian, of course!). With lockdowns, EVERYONE is prohibited from going out, not only those who carry a potentially lethal virus. In the avalanche example, a lockdown is comparable to a prohibition to go hiking in the mountains because there is a small percentage of the population who (intentionally or not) start avalanches when they go hiking (which might then threaten villages X and Y, where with covid, these villages represent the at-risk groups in society). In such a situation, it seems to me an intelligible complaint that the blanket prohibition against hiking UNDULY restricts the freedom of everyone to increase the safety of those living in X and Y. The relevant question is whether the restriction on everyone’s freedom is justified by the increase in safety to some; it might, or it might not be. (What if those in X and Y would largely prefer freedom over safety, even for themselves?) And whether it is justified will partly depend on how difficult and costly it is to identify the “avalanche starters” and effectively impose a hiking prohibition only on them. In short: (1) Isn’t it important that a lockdown is a blanket measure targeting not only those who are infected? And (2) why not conceptualise lockdowns as a safety/security vs. freedom tradeoff?

  3. I need to add one more thing. Like Ian Carter, I also believe that lockdowns increased people’s tolerance to unfreedom and more government interference. I will share two short observations. First, about the people (students / academics / other educated people) I know or have encountered in Milan, Italy. Even though in their daily life they do not seem to tolerate more unfreedom (because they just violate the rules and Italian government is not effective – after all, it is a government – in enforcing many rules), they support lockdowns. That is to say, in their deeds they are anti-lockdown, but in their words, they are pro-lockdown. I am not a government official, they do not need to hide their true beliefs about lockdowns when talking to me. And I don’t believe that they hide their true beliefs. They simply say one thing and do another. This, I think, is dangerous because it shows that even though people find it difficult to avoid cheating and changing their pre-lockdown habits, they are more likely to change their pre-lockdown beliefs. These new government-friendly beliefs will justify many more unfreedoms and government interferences in the future. We are living in very bad times if you are a liberal! Second, I am from Azerbaijan. It is a very authoritarian country. Over the last two years, the Azerbaijani government and pro-gov (virtually all) media show police brutality against those who have violated lockdown rules in the Western democracies as a justification for similar police acts in Azerbaijan. Over the last two years, freedom of assembly (which was almost non-existent before 2020) has been further restricted because of COVID. Life is normal but if you demonstrate, police will cite COVID to arrest you. Land borders of Azerbaijan with all of its neighbors are still closed because of COVID. Of course, COVID is not the reason but the government uses it as an excuse. My point is that, lockdowns brought even more unfreedoms to individuals living in authoritarian and / or non-democratic countries because now the governments have more excuses to restrict freedom.

  4. Thanks so much Ian. That’s an excellent summary. I think we agree on many points. Let me pick up on two points where we might differ.

    1. In your precis, you question my argument that it is equally bad to have one’s moral freedom restricted by government than by viruses. You write, “just as in the case of nonnormative freedom, we resent restrictions created by other people in a way that we don’t resent restrictions created by nature”. The mistake here, as you now readily acknowledge, is to suggest that the restrictions on moral freedom created by viruses are restrictions created by nature. In the article, I explain at length how the restrictions created by viruses are actually restrictions created by people. It is people, after all, who spread viruses.

    In your above comment, you kindly issue a correction. You agree that the suggestion you made was a mistake. But you still seem committed to the view that there is an important distinction to be made between restrictions on moral freedom imposed by government and restrictions on moral freedom imposed by viruses. You tie the distinction to the idea of resentment. “Inappropriate exercises of government authority” you argue “can appropriately occasion resentment in a way that virus spreading (especially in the early days of the covid pandemic) ought not to”. If this true? I’m not sure it is.

    Consider some examples. Case 1: The government bans you from going to your grandmother’s 90th birthday party. As it happens, the risks of contagion are extremely small, so absent the government order you would have no duty not to go. But you do have a duty to obey government’s orders (let’s say), so you now have a duty not to go. Case 2: You contract Covid from your housemate. You now have a moral duty not to go to your grandmother’s 90th birthday party (although the government, in this case, is not banning you from doing so). Should you feel more resentment in Case 1 than Case 2? Maybe but maybe not. The matter is contingent. We need to know more. In Case 1, did the government follow the best science when it issued its order? Was it being overbearing or was it understandably cautionary given the information it had at the time? In Case 2, how did you get Covid? Was it an accident no one could have foreseen or did your obnoxious housemate take reckless risks? And even if your housemate is innocent, what about other people further up the chain of infection? How do you feel about the likes of Boris Johnson who socialised when they should have been isolating? Or the Chinese Communist party officials who, at the start of the pandemic, tried to cover things up? In short, whether one is entitled to feel resentment or not for the restrictions of one’s moral freedom depends on the circumstances. It has nothing to do with whether those restrictions result from government orders or the spread of a deadly virus.

    2. You question my “optimism” regarding government overreach. You report that your students in Italy seem much more willing now than before to countenance intrusion into basic liberties for the sake of other values. I thought that was all super interesting. A few points in response. First, let me reiterate that ultimately the matter is empirical. It is so easy to tell stories about the effects of lockdowns, but in reality, it is extremely hard to ascertain the truth. Social science is always hard but in this case it is harder still because there is no easy way to prise apart the effects of lockdowns from the effects of the epidemics they are imposed to contain. The fact that we are still arguing over whether the Covid lockdowns even had their primary intended effect of saving lives (and, if so, how many) is an indication of the extent of empirical uncertainties.

    Second, my “optimism”, as you refer to it, is pretty mild. The hypothesis I venture in the article is comparative. Since lockdowns are imposed on the general population and their existence if obvious, they might pose less of a risk in terms of government overreach than targeted measures such as contact tracing, selective quarantining and location tracking. Since the hypothesis is comparative, it is consistent with pessimism about the riskiness of disease control measures in general. (Some measures could be better than others and still all could be bad).

    Third, you make the reference to terrorism and, as it happens, I was partly thinking of anti-terrorism measures when I ventured the hypothesis. Take the now well reported abuses perpetrated by the FBI on American Muslim communities in the years following 9/11. How were they allowed to continue? Why was more not done to stop them? The fact that they were targeted against a particular portion of population probably goes a long way to explain things. Muslims care about government abuse of their communities but most American are not Muslims and so the issue stays quiet. Contrast that with the strength of opposition to lockdowns, masks and vaccines and one gets a sense of the point I am getting at here.

    Finally, you worry that your Italian students may be becoming too tolerant of government interference. After two years pandemic, I must confess I have something like the opposite worry. The point that has impressed me more than any over the course of the last two years is extent of government failure. Millions have died while governments fumbled. Part of the problem was under preparedness, but popular opposition to disease control did not help. What motivated the opponents? Judging by their rhetoric, a key motivation was a commitment to “freedom”. So, this may then be an occasion in which political philosophy really matters. A misunderstanding of what freedom is and what it entails might have cost lives.

    This brings me back to your Italian students. If I have a message for them, it is this. I am not worried that their support for lockdowns has placed them on a slippery slope to authoritarianism. The only concern I have is that they may be misreading the implications of their own pro-lockdown attitudes. The framing of lockdowns as a violation of basic liberties that could only be justified for the sake of other values is a mistake. If lockdowns are necessary to combat viruses (and, remember, they cannot be justified otherwise), then lockdowns do not merely restrict basic liberties, they also protect them. Your students should not then deduce from their own support for lockdowns that they are less committed to basic liberties than they previously thought. There is no reason to pit John Rawls against Anthony Fauci. Liberty might be the first principle of justice and lockdowns might still be justified.

  5. Thank you all for this opportunity to discuss Kieran Oberman’s article. I am going to make an assumption about the intended audience of “Freedom and Viruses” and if my assumption is sound, then my comments will probably be relevant; if they are not, then my comments will seem irrelevant. Also, I will only focus on the effects of viruses on overall freedom assuming the pure negative conception of freedom.

    I assume that the intended audience of this article is lay people, especially those who are / were against the lockdown, and lockdown-sceptic academics who are not familiar with the current philosophical literature on freedom. I make this assumption for two reasons. First, Kieran Oberman rightly points out that even under the negative conception of freedom, viruses (to be precise, actions of virus carrying individuals) restrict overall freedom. I have no objection against this conceptual claim and it seems to me that this conclusion is obvious for anyone familiar with the writings of negative theorists of freedom. So, the intended audience of the first and the longest section of the article cannot be negative theorists (also, as far as I know, no contemporary negative theorists defend the idea that viruses don’t restrict overall freedom). Second, the article begins with the views of Trump supporters on lockdowns and seemingly intends to show that those people “do not fully understand the implications of the value they profess to love” (p. 821). So, the goal (or, at least, the major goal) of the paper, as far as I can see, is to demonstrate that anyone who is / was against the lockdowns on the grounds that lockdowns restrict freedom while viruses don’t is mistaken. I agree. But since this is a pretty obvious conceptual claim for anyone familiar with the freedom literature, I assume that the intended audience of this article is the two groups I mentioned above – lay people and lockdown-sceptic academics, both of which are not familiar with the freedom literature. I hope this assumption is sound.

    The paper says that “For a lockdown to be justified, it must satisfy at least three conditions: it must be (1) effective, (2) necessary, and (3) proportionate in combatting viruses. For the sake of argument, the article assumes that lockdowns are effective and necessary. We assume, in other words, that governments could not achieve the same level of protection by relying on voluntary social distancing.”

    This is a big assumption but philosophers usually do make such assumptions – what’s the problem here? The problem is that if my assumption about the intended audience is sound, then the paper should have properly addressed the whole debate about ‘lockdowns and freedom.’ That debate was not and is not just about proportionality. It was mostly about the effectiveness and necessity of lockdowns. Many anti-lockdown individuals – lay people and academics, especially libertarians – claimed that governments are grossly ineffective (in general or during the pandemic) in making relevant decisions about the lockdowns as well as in imposing them. See, for example, this article written in the early months of the lockdown. One of the authors is Jason Brennan who, unlike many libertarians, understands freedom as negative freedom and in general argues that under a libertarian society, individuals would enjoy more overall freedom. So, his arguments are instrumental. Similarly, many lay people who were against the lockdowns believed that governments are ineffective and they make things even worse, and that we should therefore rely on more voluntary cooperation with respect to social distancing etc.. My point is that if my assumption is sound, then Oberman does not really engage with the actual debate for and against the lockdown. It is important to emphasize that the debate I am referring to also does not refer to other values. It purely focuses on the effects of lockdowns versus viruses on overall freedom.

    So, I believe that making these big assumptions about the effectiveness of state policies is detrimental to the argumentative efficacy of this paper. The paper does not engage with the scientific data on the effects of viruses. Risks and illnesses are ubiquitous. What is so special about COVID (or other viruses) that justifies (at least partially) lockdowns? What is the threshold of lethality? Such questions, I think, should have been addressed.

  6. Hi Kieran, and thanks for your replies. I’ll just focus on the first of them, and in particular your comparison of case 1 and case 2. You say that the question of which of these two cases occasions more resentment is empirical matter and therefore contingent. But I don’t think the contingent doubt you appeal to in case 1 is one you can help yourself to. You say that maybe the government looked at the science correctly and was justified in preventing me from going to my grandmother’s 90th birthday party. Well, if the government was justified in doing so, then I simply have a moral duty not to go, a moral duty I should accept. In that case, if I placed disvalue on my moral unfreedom to go, I would be mistaken. Ex hypothesi, we are concerned with inappropriate/unjustified exercises of moral authority: as you suggest in the paper, prima facie it’s just weird to say that your moral unfreedom is disvaluable if you think that the relevant duty exists, and this point includes moral unfreedoms brought about through a morally justified exercise of moral authority. Hence your discussion of cases of unjustified exercise of moral authority. You introduced those cases because those seemed to be the only ones in which the case for ascribing disvalue to a moral unfreedom seemed to get off the ground. It’s not a contingent matter that I can and should resent unjustified exercises of moral authority.

    Of course, in a case in which a lockdown is justified (e.g. in terms of overall freedom), then there is no justified resentment. But then there isn’t even a prima facie case (as you suggested in the article that there is) for complaining about the moral unfreedoms created by the lockdown.

    In case 2, on the other hand, I was assuming a lack of moral responsibility on the part of the person or persons whose action(s) trigger my moral duty not to go to the party. Hence my reference to the beginning of the pandemic (meaning, roughly, March 2020), when people (even the best informed people) really didn’t understand the extent of the danger. Admittedly, unlike in case 1 this is a contingent matter. But if we look at the duties to socially distance that existed at the beginning of the covid pandemic, I think this is a reasonable empirical assumption.

    It would be interesting to compare appropriate degrees of resentment against the arrogance of those abusing moral or legal normative powers with which they have been entrusted (unjustified exercises of authority) with appropriate degrees of resentment against those who trigger burdensome duties in others merely through carelessness. My intuition is that there’s a relevant difference here when considering the disvalue of particular moral unfreedoms.

  7. Hi Kieran. As far as I can tell your view (and particularly your FN 34) implies the following: a lockdown in response to a virus that wasn’t spread by humans (e.g. mosquito to human—not human to human, nor even human to mosquito to human) would be justified very differently to a lockdown in response to covid—even when the lockdown’s effect on the virus (its course, spread, deaths, etc.) is the same. Is that your view? Can that be right?

    I would have thought that if you have a virus with X many deaths (and other implications—overwhelmed health systems, etc.), and you know that a lockdown will have Y positive effects, then you wouldn’t need to additionally know whether the mechanism of spread is human to human or mosquito to human in order to determine whether the lockdown is justified. “Yes, a lockdown will prevent X deaths, but it would only be justified if the virus is spread human to human—so we need to find that out, ASAP!”

    Relatedly, would a lockdown in response to marauding gangs be justified in a very different way to a lockdown in response to angry bears?

  8. Susanne asks: “(1) Isn’t it important that a lockdown is a blanket measure targeting not only those who are infected? And (2) why not conceptualise lockdowns as a safety/security vs. freedom tradeoff?” The answer to (1) is “yes”. As I say at the start of the article, a lockdown is not justified if it is unnecessary. A lockdown would be unnecessary if there was a better measure that are equally effective at combating viruses. Targeted measures to find and isolate infected individuals might well be better measures when they are equally effective. Unfortunately, they can be less effective or completely ineffective. Everything depends on how easy it is to find and isolate infected individuals. When a deadly virus is spreading rapidly and is impossible to contain through targeted measures, a lockdown can meet the necessary requirement (which is not to say it is justified – there are more conditions to meet).

    I will not answer question (2) here since the whole point of the article is to answer that precise question. (As I put it in the introduction: “This article rejects [the] trade-off response to lockdown opponents. It argues that while lockdowns restrict freedom, so too do viruses. Since viruses restrict freedom, and lockdowns protect us from viruses, lockdowns can protect us from the harmful effects that viruses have upon freedom”). But your comment did help me realise that the trade-off framing is actually even more invidious than I had thought. Take the point you make that people who are subject to lockdowns might complain that they “prefer freedom over safety, even for themselves”. Here the complainers are effectively saying something like: “There are two different values here: freedom and safety. Who is the government to decide that one is more important than the other? If I prefer oranges to apples, then give me oranges God damn it”. There is also something heroic – and, let’s face it, macho – about people who claim to prefer freedom to safety. “What? You prefer safety? What are you, a wimp?” Once we observe that viruses restrict freedom, we can see how flawed this kind of talk is. When the government is enforcing lockdowns, it need not be deciding that one value is more important than another. It could instead be trying to protect freedom – or its value or distribution – from the ravishes of an epidemic. It could, in another words, be trying to give people more oranges overall, rather than taking oranges from people to give them apples. Similarly, whether or not there is anything wrong or wimpish about preferring safety over freedom, there is nothing wrong or wimpish about wanting more freedom over less.

  9. Thanks so much Ian for your latest response and to the others who have joined the debate. Susanne, Ilkin, Thomas – all great points. I see that the time reads 9.29am on the last comment so good morning to people on the East Coast. I’m going to respond in this order: Susanne, Ilkin, Ian’s reply to my reply and Thomas. I’ve just posted my response to Susanne. I’ll now get going on writing my reply to Ilkin. If anyone else wants to chip in or come back at me, go for it but I’ll try and follow that order so as not to leave anyone out.

  10. A few comments on Ilkin’s posts. He offers a bleak description of how Azerbaijan has used Covid to excuse human rights violations. I haven’t followed the Azerbaijan case, but I am, of course, aware that repressive governments throughout the world have done this sort of thing. What to say about such cases? Well, I don’t think there is much for philosophers to say. As citizens, activists and human rights advocates we should try to stop governments using pandemics – and any other excuse – to violate human rights. But such cases do little to affect the moral permissibility of lockdowns. For analogy, consider anti-corruption legislation. Anti-corruption legislation is routinely used by governments around the world to criminalise their opponents. One day, an opposition leader speaks out. The next day, they are facing corruption charges. Is anti-corruption legislation wrong as a result? Clearly, not. In countries with decent governments, anti-corruption legislation is fully justified. Perhaps some might want to say that we should oppose anti-corruption legislation in countries with repressive governments. But I’m not sure we even want to say that. So much will depend on the details of the case. In extreme situations, we may want to oppose legislation outright (since there is no hope that it will be used for anything besides oppression) but in other cases we will accept the legitimacy of the legislation but campaign against its abuse. The same, I think, goes for lockdowns.

    In a later post, Ilkin asks what my intended audience is and suggests that it is either lay people (non-philosophers) or lockdown sceptical philosophers. The actual answer is everyone. After all, everyone cares about freedom, and everyone cares about viruses. The article tries to plot the relationship between the two. If you are already convinced that viruses restrict freedom, then I won’t need to win you over to the central thesis but there’s a lot in the details and so I’m sure you will find something to learn from or object to. One target, for instance, not yet mentioned in this PEA Soup discussion, is republicanism. The article is, among other things, an attack piece on republicanism. I think republicans should support lockdowns even if lockdowns are unnecessary to combat viruses. I think supporting unnecessary lockdowns is wrong. So, I think republicanism is wrong.
    Now it is true that much of the article deals with negative freedom and Ilkin asks: isn’t it obvious to anyone familiar with the freedom literature that viruses restrict negative freedom? Actually, no. At the start of the article, I cite three philosophers all of whom, in separate online articles, argued that according the negative freedom, lockdowns are singularly detrimental to freedom. I hadn’t seen the Brennan et al. article (so thanks for that) but glancing over it, they seem to be making the same assumption. Lockdowns restrict negative freedom. Lockdowns cannot protect negative freedom. My article shows why that assumption is wrong.

    Finally, Ilkin asks why I simply assume at the start that lockdowns are necessary to combat viruses. Isn’t that where the action is? So, why am I not doing the work of showing that lockdowns are actually necessary? One reason why I haven’t attempted to do this work is the division of disciplinary labour. I’m not a scientist. Whether lockdowns were necessary to combat Covid is a scientific question. I could try to summarise the scientific literature but that’s hard to do given the level of disagreement among scientists and the pace at which the science is developing. But in any case, the division of disciplinary labour is not the only reason. The more central reason is that the article is not about Covid. It’s about viruses. Whether a lockdown is necessary to combat a virus depends (among other things) on the nature of the virus. So, there is no point, in the abstract, trying to work out whether lockdowns are necessary. It’s like trying to work out, in the abstract, whether self-defence is necessary. Clearly, it depends (among other things) on who – or what – is threatening you.

    But why is the article not just about Covid? Well, as I say in the article, “One point worth stressing is that the article is not just about SARS-CoV-2. There will be future epidemics. They will differ in their biology, virulence and lethality. We need to consider the ethics of disease control with various possibilities in mind”. “Freedom and Viruses” is my attempt at doing some forward-looking philosophy rather than some backward-looking science.

  11. I have a question about the conditions that define the paper’s negative conception of freedom, specifically, about the relation of conditions 5 and 6 to conditions 1-2. The paper’s account of freedom is unmoralized (822, 6th condition), so it captures the usage in which the justified imprisonment of murderers restricts their freedom. The paper also distinguishes freedom from its value (822, 5th condition), there being no value in the freedom to murder other people. These two conditions make the paper’s account of freedom primarily descriptive, leading to a question about the first two conditions the paper lays down: only external constraints (not incapacity with respect to reasoned decision-making), and only constraints imposed by other people (not nature by itself). If our only goal is to describe how the term “freedom” tends to be used, the motivation for these conditions is unclear. I can experience a loss of self-control as a kind of unfreedom. And if I fall into a natural sinkhole, I would think of myself as trapped, stuck, and not free to leave.

    If one wants to insist on conditions 1-2, it must be because one thinks these conditions are crucial to the value of freedom, or make a certain kind of freedom especially important. But that value, whatever it might be, doesn’t make an appearance in the paper. Therefore I’m left with the impression that the lockdown-opponent who appeals to negative liberty will say “yes, people who go unmasked restrict negative liberty in your neutral sense – indeed, anyone who ever leaves the house restricts the negative liberty of others, to an extent, since virtually anything one does can increase the risk of harm to others, as compared to staying home – but there is still an important difference between an individual taking an action that creates a small increase in the risk of harm to someone else and the collectivity prohibiting people from for doing things, and punishing people for doing things.”

  12. Hello Prof Oberman

    I left a longish comment which you may not have time to read, but I hope it gives some new perspective on what you said in one of your responses to the commenters:

    Millions have died while governments fumbled. Part of the problem was under preparedness, but popular opposition to disease control did not help. What motivated the opponents? Judging by their rhetoric, a key motivation was a commitment to “freedom”. So, this may then be an occasion in which political philosophy really matters. A misunderstanding of what freedom is and what it entails might have cost lives.

    Now, it seems to me you are right to point out that some people do not realize that they are indeed violating the freedom of others by giving them a virus that the latter do want to avoid, but I hope that my previous long comment gives a partial response to why some of those opposing the disease control measures (e.g. lockdowns or mandated vaccines for them) have a legitimate conception of freedom that allows for our believing that if we give the virus to someone, we do violate her freedom if she was trying to avoid the virus, but still legitimately complaining about the unnecessary violation of our freedom. I just can’t see how those of us who are offering to be intentionally infected in an institutionalized way don’t have a prototypical freedom-related complaint when we are forced to get vaccinated.
    Interestingly, (it seems to me that) you rightly hinted that there may be some quarters who are vocally expressing worries about a slide into authoritarianism while they were totally silent when the very authoritarianism they cast as a threat to freedom was imposed on the Muslim minorities after 9/11. If you are implying that their concern for freedom is hypocritical I agree, and what I find interesting is that I have complained, again in a past comment at philosopher Richard Chappell’s old blog, that we the unvaccinated are being cast as terrorists, literally, which is a stigma hovering around the head of the Muslim community collectively. Many times in my Facebook posts I have wondered at how for the first time in my life I have developed a far deeper emotional understanding of what various historically oppressed groups have been going through precisely because the last 3 years was the first time in my life that I experienced societal and State injustice against my core identity; until now, as a white heterosexual male, I had never occasion to feel so powerless and so angry at the Establishment or society; I was fully supportive of LGBTQ rights, and women rights, for example, and I had an emotional understanding of how powerless or angry they may feel, but my new understanding is orders of magnitude deeper, now I can feel the intensity of their anger or sense of powerlessness, by analogy. The experience was indeed educating, but it is still stigmatizing to be thought of as a security threat. And my sense of injustice comes from the fact that I can’t possibly be a security threat if I am offering intentional infection.

  13. The longish comment i referred to in my post above was up for a few hours and then got deleted. I am not sure who deleted it, but it can’t have been Prof Shoemaker who gave me explicit permission to post it when i contacted him by email with the request for permission to post (i don’t like being intrusive, hence my prior request for approval of my prospective comment). I got Prof Shoemaker’s permission, and my comment, addressed to Prof Carter, can’t have been that bad, because Prof Carter emailed me to tell me that he had seen my comment posted and by the time he was thinking to reply to it it had already been taken down, and that he didn’t want me to think that it was him who took it down (one can tell that Prof Carter is a really sensitive and polite person by such small details, i.e. that he took the time to respond to a total stranger he –i am guessing– saw as having suffered a minor injustice. How did Prof Carter know my email and why did he write to me? Because i had initially asked for his permission too to post my longish initial comment because i had seen that Pea Soup has a policy that the contributors of the original post have the right to remove a comment too. I would have asked for Prof Oberman’s permission too — as i said, i don’t like being intrusive — but i searched for any email of his but couldn’t find one.
    For the record, it is the second comment of mine in this discussion that gets deleted, the other one was responding to Prof Oberman’s point about the statement of preference of freedom over security as being a statement expressive of machismo — i was trying to explain why i had no such lowly motivation in my offer for institutionalized intentional infection, and why some other objectors to Public Health measures who are like me are probably not moved by machismo concerns either. But it is getting increasingly clear that no clear picture of what the various distinct subsets of people among those who oppose Public Health measures really think , given that when some of us are trying to politely explain what our motivations are we get shut down. It’s like only the worst of Trump supporters are allowed to be heard as being the only representative ones of opposition to Public Health measures. But that’s a caricature of reality, not reality. That the ugly ones may be/are the majority does not mean that there are not legitimate objectors who are totally appreciative of how (unwanted) infections do violate freedom exactly as Prof Oberman says.

  14. Regarding Ian’s reply to my reply. Let me restate Case 1 to get it right. I’m imagining a case in which it is reasonable for a government to impose a lockdown and yet someone – call her Helen – still has no independent moral duty not to go to a party. There are various reasons why things might turn out this way. Here’s one. The government might have to impose a uniform lockdown on everyone simply because it is impractical to make exceptions for all exceptional cases. Helen’s case, let us imagine, is exceptional. She’s extremely unlikely to pose a threat to others. Perhaps she has just had the virus and cannot be in reinfected for some time. In such a case, she owes a duty not to go to the party, assuming she has a duty to obey the government, but still, she has little reason to feel resentful.

    Regarding Case 2, Ian points out that he wants to talk especially about the start of an epidemic. I saw that in his original comment. That’s why I referenced, in my reply, the example of the Chinese Communist Party’s attempt to suppress news of Covid when it was first reported. I make similar remarks in the article. Sometimes, even at the start of an epidemic, there are people at fault. Against these people, we can reasonably feel resentful.

    So, the matter really is contingent. It is not that we always have reason to feel resentful against a government order that constrains our moral freedom. Nor is it true, in the case, of viruses, that we have no reason to feel resentful. Even at the start of an epidemic, resentful may be apt.

  15. Thomas – great comment. I think you are exactly right. If negative freedom theorists believe that freedom has value, then they must believe that it is important whether or not some constraint is humanly imposed to know how important it is to remove. You are right when it comes to viruses, but the point generalises. Suppose two children are trapped down caves. One was pushed. The other fell in. If (negative) freedom is especially valuable, then we should free the child who was pushed ahead of the child who fell in. But that seems counterintuitive, so either:
    1. Negative freedom is the wrong conception of freedom. On the correct conception, freedom can be restricted by natural constraints.
    2. Negative freedom is the right conception of freedom, but freedom is not particularly valuable.
    Perhaps there is some third option but I’m not sure what it would be. As these comments should make plain, I’m not especially committed to negative freedom. I run with it in the article simply because it seems like the most promising conception if you want to defend the idea – that I critique – that lockdowns, but not viruses, constrain freedom. In other words, I purposefully chose a conception that seems particularly hostile to my own view to try to show that, even on that conception, that view succeeds.

  16. Ok it’s 10pm UK time. To those to whom I have not yet responded – I promise you a response as soon as I can. These are great comments. I’m extremely grateful for everyone who has taken part and to the organisers. The forum was advertised just for today but I think we can carry on posting for a few days yet so please feel free to add new comments if you wish. Good night for now.

  17. A couple of points, Kieran, on the question of contingency and on the disvalue of moral unfreedom.

    1. On contingency. As I implied in my précis, I am not exercised in the way you are by the moral freedom argument against lockdowns. But I was assuming, arguendo, that you’re right to be so exercised, and I was then asking, on that basis, whether we shouldn’t say that the disvalue of moral unfreedom can vary depending on the kind of source of imposition of moral duty (e.g. abuse of authority vs mere carelessness). There are of course lots of contingent empirical factors affecting whether an imposition of a moral duty is justified or not, and when unjustified, how serious the wrong and the consequent justified resentment. But the difference in kind of source is not a contingent matter; it’s a conceptual difference. And neither is it a contingent matter whether one should resent the imposition, IF we assume that the imposition is unjust (on why we have to assume this, see point 2, below). If the Chinese government is responsible for the initial spread of the virus outside China, then we can justly feel resentment towards it for creating in us various social-distancing or stay-home moral duties. But still, the Chinese government’s actions or omissions were not an abuse of some kind of moral authority it had over us. This difference might be relevant in assessing the disvalue of moral unfreedom, and therefore relevant in assessing the disvalue of the moral unfreedoms created by virus-spreaders vs by government-imposed duties. You state that all such sources are on a par in terms of disvalue of moral unfreedom, but I don’t see an argument to that effect.

    2. On the disvalue of moral unfreedom. Maybe I’m not getting the point of the section on moral freedom (sec. IX), so perhaps it might help if you say a bit more about why you think moral freedom is valuable and on what conditions.

    I took you to be saying, in the article, that one creates disvalue by creating duties in others if, and only if(?), the creation of duties is itself something one has a duty not to do — i.e. if the imposition of a duty is itself morally wrong. Hence your examples of the threat of harm to a third party (“Manufacturer threatens Competitor”, p. 839) and of a wrongful exercise of authority (“Nia and Saoirse”, p. 840) – both examples of wrongful imposition of moral duties. And hence your claim, at the bottom of p. 839, that if the government is justified in imposing the duty (“Permission Included”), then “the moral freedom argument is in trouble”. I took this to be because, if the government is so justified, then the moral unfreedom it creates is not disvaluable. Indeed, it’s valuable. Am I right about this?

    If so, while I can see that moral unfreedom is disvaluable when (and only when) it’s unjustly imposed, the prima facie case for a moral-freedom-based objection to the lockdown seems question-begging, for it has to assume exactly what it’s trying to prove: i.e. that the lockdown is unjust. Unjust on what grounds? Not, presumably, on the basis of the moral freedom argument, for that would make the argument circular.

    If the lockdown is justified (as in your case 1) because it promotes overall nonnormative freedom, then there is no prima facie case against the lockdown based on the disvalue of moral unfreedom. The moral unfreedoms are valuable, not disvaluable, because they promote or protect or better distribute nonnormative freedom. This is what I meant in saying that nonnormative freedom is more basic, normatively speaking.

    If, on the other hand, the lockdown is unjustified, then it does create disvaluable moral unfreedoms, but this fact is parasitic on the reason for the imposition being unjustified, which is NOT that it creates disvaluable moral unfreedoms but that it is bad for nonnormative freedom.

  18. Hi Kieran. Thank you for your replies. I would like to comment on your response to Thomas. You write that “Suppose two children are trapped down caves. One was pushed. The other fell in. If (negative) freedom is especially valuable, then we SHOULD free the child who was pushed AHEAD of the child who fell in.” Luckily, however, this conclusion does not follow for the following reason: theorists of negative freedom are not subscribed to the view that freedom has unconditional value. That is to say, they do not argue that the value of freedom trumps the value of everything else all the time and in all possible worlds: more freedom is always better in a non-ceteris paribus sense. Instead, they argue that freedom has at least one of the following values (note that these values do not necessarily exclude one another): instrumental, constitutive, and intrinsic. None of these three values imply that one should first save the child who was pushed ahead of the child who fell in because saying that freedom has instrumental / constitutive / intrinsic value is not saying that the value of freedom trumps the value of everything else all the time. Obviously, any negative theorists who believes that freedom has instrumental (or constitutive or intrinsic) value would also recognize that there are many other values one should consider in your scenario – values such as the well-being of each child. Since the value of freedom does not trump the value of everything else all the time, a defender of negative freedom would rightly hold the view that we should first save the child who needs more help / whose condition is worse etc.

    Your conclusion, on the other hand, would follow if one assumes that freedom has unconditional value: “an unconditionally valuable thing has more value than any other thing regardless of the value of its consequences, and is thus good in any possible world. (A side note: negative theorists talk about the freedom of agents. Are the children in your example agents? If they are not, then I am not sure whether we can talk about their freedom or unfreedom. But this is an unexplored topic and I have not thought about it.)

  19. Regarding Kieran’s child-saving example given in response to Thomas: I think it would be helpful to distinguish here between telic value, which tends to be interpreted as the promotion of wellbeing, and deontic value, which I would interpret as respect for persons (‘recognition respect’, for those into the literature on respect). The ethical significance of the distinction between freedom-as-mere-ability and social freedom (what we’ve here been calling “negative freedom”) seems to me to be deontic, not telic. We have a special concern for constraints brought about by other agents because these can be evaluated as more or less respectful of persons, and in cases where they are not respectful of persons, as occasioning resentment. In Kieran’s two-children example, there is less value in the world if one of the children was pushed into the cave rather than both having fallen in. But this has no bearing on the question of which child to prioritize in the rescue operation, a question on which deontic value is probably indifferent but where questions of telic value might be appealed to.

    Also: I don’t think it’s helpful to ask which conception of freedom is the correct one. There are different conceptions of freedom, some more internally coherent than others, and some of which serve certain normative purposes better than others. I think the negative conception of freedom (i.e. freedom conceived as a social relation of non-prevention) is useful in constructing a liberal theory of justice based on the notion of respect for persons (and I think “republicans” would be clearer and more coherent if they appealed to it in explicating their normative theory too, and … etc. etc.).

  20. Hello Prof Oberman.

    I would like to ask you a question concerning the limits (if any) of the impracticality that you alluded to as a source of moral legitimacy of certain government prohibitions:

    “Let me restate Case 1 to get it right. I’m imagining a case in which it is reasonable for a government to impose a lockdown and yet someone – call her Helen – still has no independent moral duty not to go to a party. There are various reasons why things might turn out this way. Here’s one. The government might have to impose a uniform lockdown on everyone simply because it is impractical to make exceptions for all exceptional cases. Helen’s case, let us imagine, is exceptional. She’s extremely unlikely to pose a threat to others. Perhaps she has just had the virus and cannot be in reinfected for some time. In such a case, she owes a duty not to go to the party, assuming she has a duty to obey the government, but still, she has little reason to feel resentful.”

    Do you see some limits at the government’s discretion to allude to impracticality? Let me give a real life example and ask your opinion on the aptness of my huge resentment (I am understating my emotional state) and even the permissibility of civil disobedience in my case: Both Profs Nicholas Christakis and Paul Ofit have suggested at some time in the past that vaccines should be mandated even upon people who already had natural immunity and that these people should be forced to be vaccinated on the grounds of impracticality (Prof Martin Kulldorf had disagreed and had accepted the mandates only for the rest of us who had not yet been infected, even for those among us who were happy to be intentionally infected). In my deleted comment above I had made the point that impracticality cannot be an excuse for very onerous government measures, and I think that my being forced to be vaccinated even though I am offering to the government my intention to be infected in a hospital (in a way that the government can afterwards track my movements when I am self-quarantining at home) while I am holding the hand of a consenting Covid patient and keeping her company is a clearcut case of impermissible government intrusion — in the rationale of a decision of the Court of Human Rights in 2010 there is a clear statement to the effect that medical interventions can only be imposed for the sake of the safety of third parties, not for the sake of the safety of a competent adult, I don’t know if the rationale is legally binding but it is certainly normatively trustworthy, given that it comes from a recognized authority on human rights. Links for all my descriptive claims at your disposal).
    I guess my question amounts to this: can we permissibly violate human rights on the grounds of impracticality? (I am referring to mandated vaccines, i.e. to impositions of medical interventions upon the body (which in your paper have recognized that it poses distinct issues, and explicitly set it aside for the sake of concentrating on lockdowns), when there is no threat to third parties if the medical intervention is not imposed; I am leaving lockdowns aside for the moment). If yes, i.e. if impracticality is acceptable grounds for such human rights violations via violations of the body with unwanted and unnecessary medical interventions, isn’t this a slide to a new authoritarianism where I am at the mercy of the government and the medical Establishment?

    PS: i have not read your paper on necessity in self defense, can impracticality ever be considered to be the grounds of necessity? I would think that not.

  21. I am reposting below my original first comment at the request of Prof Shoemaker (the one that was addressed to Prof Carter which got deleted). If it is indeed insufficiently engaging with the post i apologize (i had taken Prof Shoemaker’s permission for posting even before the first time i posted it), but, as Prof Oberman has said, there will be future epidemics, and given that no one is voicing my middle-ground position re lockdowns based on expressed risk-preferences and not based on vulnerability (Great Barrington Declaration) or blanket prohibitions (what in fact happened during the epidemic), and given that it also connects the issue with the unavoidable subsequent vaccine mandates, i think my comment was justifiably raising normative concerns relevant to freedom that have been shut down with insufficient philosophical argument in the public discourse. I apologize also for the lack of analytic clarity, i am fan of analytic philosophers, not a philosopher myself; my sense of liberty at posting in spite of my epistemic disadvantage was based on deep respect for what analytic philosophers do better than everyone else, namely taking your argument and turning it into its most unassailable form possible so as to give it the best chance.

    Hello Prof Carter

    I am not a philosopher but I have a question about the point you made below:

    Kieran is surely right that we should not simply compare freedom under the lockdown to freedom before the pandemic. Instead, we should compare the sorry state of freedom under the lockdown with the sorry state of freedom under the pandemic unchecked by the lockdown. This is more tragic, but also more realistic.

    My question was inspired by a point that Prof Kieran Oberman made in his paper, a point relevant to the possible antipaternalist motivations for certain theorizing about freedom. And here is my question: given that there were people who were willing to be intentionally infected (Prof Oberman at some point in his paper makes reference to people who went to so-called Covid parties with the intention of getting infected) and assuming these people would acquiesce to get intentionally infected in an institutionalized way such that their subsequent movements until they cleared the virus could be checked by the relevant Authorities (for the sake of making sure that they will not go about infecting others but will instead self-quarantine), shouldn’t there be a third possible state of affairs among the states of unfreedom you are comparing? I have in mind a lockdown that will/would have divide(d) the public space temporally between people who want to be protected from the virus and people who don’t mind getting infected (maybe by issuing distinct color IDs to each group?). The latter would have the right to choose to go on coming in touch with other people like them without protection but without any possibility of coming in touch with the other group of people who want to be protected. Supermarkets open for our group only for some specific days, the rest of the days for the other group of people who choose to avoid the virus; or maybe a spatial segmentation could do the same trick for supermarkets (particular supermarkets only for the green IDs, other suprermarkets only for red IDs, ditto for public transportation; or something along those lines that would take into consideration people’s attitudes towards the risk of infection. This is less unfree than the “blanket” lockdown (or at least its unfreedom has less disvalue in that it was freely chosen), and respects those who resent paternalism. I would certainly choose to belong to such a group that goes on living with the freedom to touch consenting individuals (because one of my fundamental concerns with the lockdown and the social distancing was the dehumanizing loss of human touch and animal touch, what with the fears about zoonosis) and I would avoid of course going even remotely close to people who want to be protected and may be afraid of me on account of my liberal attitude towards virus infection, an avoidance that I would adhere to even if it were not a legal obligation. In addition, we could even be extremely useful by agreeing to participate in scientific studies that want to draw conclusions relevant to infectivity in natural settings, or studies relevant to the duration of immunity; my proposal even saves some idealistic candidates in human challenge trials who may sacrifice themselves for the sake of Science, and substitutes us in their place, i.e. people who are happy to show solidarity to our fellow citizens in a way that is not experienced by us as costly because we don’t mind getting infected by the virus naturally. In case there is fear that we may occupy hospital beds or doctors’ time with our infections, we could certainly sign a paper forfeiting our priority for a hospital bed or a doctor in case of a triage situation after we catch the virus and assuming we need hospitalization.
    It seems to me my outline of an (extremely vague, I admit) proposal delivers almost everything important the blanket lockdown arguably does: my plan certainly minimizes the spread among those who want to be protected, if anything by removing us from among them, i.e. by removing the persons more prone to risk-taking re virus infection, but also delivers extra advantages (namely, scientific research experiments with participant subjects who don’t worry about choosing infection instead of participant subjects who feel like they are sacrificing themselves; people who develop early on natural immunity, no matter how long-lasting it will turn out to be; reduced incidence of unplanned infections, hence reduced risk of Variants of Concern (VOCs) arising). Also, quicker scientific advances relevant to understanding immunity from whatever new Covid VOC or new pathogen shows up in the far future on account of the sheer amount of subjects that participate in the studies (the State could make it a condition for getting a green ID that we will participate in non-invasive medical studies re to the pathogens of concern at the time; personally I would be happy to additionally be offering blood and urine samples for the rest of my life for free). All these gains at the price of allowing some of us to get badly sick (or die) through our free choice.

    I wanted, Prof Carter, to ask you about your normative take on this possibility for an alternative form of lockdown, assuming we could get the logistics in place (it doesn’t seem impractical to me, I confess; and, at any rate, impracticality, if it is not impossibility, cannot normatively trump antipaternalist freedom, I am reporting normative intuition here). This is not an emotionally idle issue for me, some of us during the pandemic felt we were coerced paternalistically and totally unnecessarily given our irrevocable decision to get intentionally infected anyway (so the paternalism wasn’t saving us from anything, in the long run we would meet Covid anyway), and we also felt we were prevented from offering in the best possible way solidarity to our fellow citizens, especially to the immunocompromised and more generally to the vulnerable, who wanted to be protected from the virus – preplanned intentional infection of me would reduce my risk of infecting someone else even if the blanket lockdown was chosen instead of my alternative plan for lockdown. I am not asking for my right to an ugly freedom, I am asking for my right to show solidarity to my fellow citizens in the best possible way and without endangering them the slightest, while preserving a way of life that I hold as a near-sacred value ( I am into natural living, plus I don’t want to use any product that has been tested on animals). Instead of being offered the option of being socially useful in this way, i.e. through preplanned intentional infection, we were called irresponsible or free-riding selfish antivaxxers – I am talking about all of us who don’t mind getting intentionally infected.

    I need to close in my usual way when I address analytic philosophers, namely by declaring that you are my intellectual (not moral) heroes on account of the conceptual clarity you are bringing about and with the wish that we will be seeing more of you participating in public discussions, over and above your other politically charged and combative interventions supporting just causes, with the role of public-discussion-facilitator through making the issues conceptually clearer and more focused for the public that wants to discuss the issues in a constructive way. (none of what I am saying suggests that all topics are up for constructive debate in the analyticophilosophical way. Some issues are way too offensive to the oppressed party to be discussed under the cold impartial analytic clarity that normally makes me gawk over analytic philosophers in topics that I have no deep emotional stake in).

  22. Hi everyone. This might be my last contribution as I’m on my summer vacation from today. Let me just respond to Dionissis, since he asked me for my opinion on his proposal.

    It seems to me that this proposal, if feasible, would indeed increase negative (nonnormative) freedom with respect to the amount of freedom roughly envisaged by Kieran to exist under a blanket lockdown, as it would add the option of becoming a green-ID person (willing to become infected, but segregated from the locked down people), while also not increasing the virus-related unfreedoms that are part of Kieran’s defence of the lockdown. But I think it would be crucial to your proposal that, as you put it, the people who opt for segregated release from the lockdown “sign a paper forfeiting our priority for a hospital bed or a doctor in case of a triage situation after we catch the virus and assuming we need hospitalization”. Indeed, it might be questioned whether they have any right to treatment at all. There is a more general argument in political philosophy about whether, against the background of fair distribution of resources, those choosing risky lifestyles have a right to help from the more prudent when the risks turn out badly. Libertarians and luck egalitarians think that if the risk goes well (in the present case, this means exiting the lockdown, enjoying socializing, and not getting dangerously ill), the risk-taker doesn’t owe the prudent anything despite winding up better off overall than the prudent; but conversely, then, if the risk goes badly, and the risk-taker winds up worse off than the prudent in some respect, the prudent has no duties towards the risk-taker.

    I wrote above, “if feasible”, and that’s a big “if”. I have strong doubts about the feasibility of the proposal, above all for the following reason: if the virus spreads exponentially, as covid did, then it would take only a very small number of people from the voluntarily infected group to go back on their commitment not to come into contact with the lockdown adherents to produce an unjust prolongment of the lockdown at best, or a disastrous increase in involuntary covid infections at worse. To reduce the probability of this defection to a minimum, the segregation would have to be enforced very strictly. And the coercive mechanisms necessary for this effective enforcement would seem to make the scheme counterproductive in terms of overall freedom.

    Regarding feasibility, you write: “impracticality, if it is not impossibility, cannot normatively trump antipaternalist freedom.” I’m not quite sure what you mean by that. Personally, I sympathize with theorists like G.A. Cohen who argue that evaluating unrealistic proposals is an important exercise because it better informs us about how to evaluate realistic ones. However, at the end of the day we need to decide what to do, and that means descending from “ideal theory” to “non-ideal theory”, taking account of feasibility constraints.

  23. Hi everyone. Little late to the party. But I’m wondering if someone with a republican conception of freedom is going to be too worried with your conclusion, Kieran. “You say what if people’s likely self-isolation will be just as effective as a lockdown, such that a lockdown would be seemingly unnecessary? Isn’t it implausible that the lockdown can be justified on freedom grounds. But that’s not a bug of my view: that is my view. We care about the *robust* protection of people’s non-interference. And a lockdown *is* necessary to protect people’s freedom robustly.” Additionally, presumably the republican needn’t say the lockdown, though justified on freedom grounds, would be all-things-considered justified? Any thoughts?

  24. I share Ilkin’s sense that Kieran’s conceptual point (that virus-spreading actions restrict freedom too) isn’t really getting at the heart of the relevant disputes here. In particular, I think the claim that debates over lockdowns are aptly characterized in terms of “freedom vs safety” can survive Kieran’s point that viruses restrict freedom too. The reason for this is that, at least in the case of Covid, it seems clear to me that the net effect of lockdowns on freedom was negative. (This is not a conceptual claim, but an empirical one. Much like, say, the claim that imprisoning a person has a net-negative effect on their freedom: it’s logically possible to imagine situations in which that wouldn’t be so. But those possible cases seem pretty far-out. In any given case, it will often be tolerably obvious that arbitrarily imprisoning a person reduces their freedom. The conceptual point that this is an empirical contingency doesn’t by itself undermine this claim–or its obviousness.)

    Kieran mentions “three philosophers all of whom, in separate online articles, argued that according the negative freedom, lockdowns are singularly detrimental to freedom.” But do they argue that this is a *conceptual* truth? I haven’t chased up the citations, but if it’s possible that they simply take it to be *empirically obvious* (as in the case of arbitrary imprisonment), then that may be the more charitable interpretation.

  25. Hello Prof Carter and thank you very much for your response. I will respond in separate comments to 3 points you made. Here is the first:

    “Indeed, it might be questioned whether they [the people who opted for a green ID and took the risk of getting badly sick by getting intentionally infected] have any right to treatment at all. There is a more general argument in political philosophy about whether, against the background of fair distribution of resources, those choosing risky lifestyles have a right to help from the more prudent when the risks turn out badly.”

    First a question: wouldn’t the participation of the green IDs (the risk-takers) in medical research and the benefits that this research would bring somehow “pay” for the unfortunate use of resources in case their Covid turns out badly? Also, some of those who will get badly sick under the green-ID risk-taking scheme would have got sick even if they hadn’t opted for the green ID. Couldn’t we then say that, even assuming that refusing treatment when there is no triage situation is pro tanto permissible, at least for some proportion of the green IDs who will get badly sick it would be unfair to be refused treatment and that only the rest of the green IDs who got badly sick should be refused treatment? Relatedly, how are we to ascertain that a 1 in 14,000 risk of getting badly sick from Covid (this is my risk of dying from Covid , not my risk of getting badly sick, but I am simplifying), makes someone liable to lose the right to treatment in case she gets badly sick? If the risk of daily boarding an automobile for a certain time for a period of 1 year carries a risk of 1 in 8,000 of needing medical treatment in one year (this is not the risk of needing medical treatment but the risk of death in an accident for some specific conditions of boarding an automobile for a year which I saw at the New York Times, but I am simplifying again) why is the passenger or the driver deserving of medical treatment over the particular green-ID holder, given that he took a greater risk than she did? Finally, isn’t this line of reasoning forcing the libertarians to refuse treatment to smokers or people who participate in motor cycle races or extreme sports? I would take these last demands to be reductio ad absurdum of the libertarian position. More generally, does my in-principle not ever taking antibiotics (or medication) along with my very healthy diet “buy” me any extra tolerance for my Covid risk-taking? I mean, if we take the libertarian demand seriously and start seeing risk takers as liable to lose treatment, shouldn’t behaviors that economize on medical resources or reduce risk of disease count as offsetting some other risk-taking activities? Those considerations too seem to me to be reductio ad absurdum of the libertarian demands, though I can’t pin down where my intuitions are stemming from, I am just reporting them. But I just can’t see how we can with a straight face refuse medical treatment to Covid risk-taking green IDs who got badly sick when there is no triage situation while we allow other risk-increasing behaviours to escape liability to losing medical treatment, which may be even more risky in absolute terms even for getting badly sick from Covid, not just for other diseases. Suppose overeating does increase the risk of getting badly sick from Covid substantially. Are we then going to refuse to treat the Black lady who drowned into comfort eating all the racist epithets and stares she had to swallow in her life? Wouldn’t that be glaringly unfair?

    But I would have a far more serious objection against refusing treatment to anyone (assuming we are not facing a triage situation, In which case of course the prudent red IDs deserve priority over the risk-taking green IDs):we are hurting our soul as a society if we become so calculative in the face of present suffering. I mean that we become worse persons if we start ignoring sick people for the sake of saving money for future needs in Public Health. Again, I am reporting intuition, I have no argument other than gesturing towards common sense perceptions that systematically engaging in harsh acts makes an agent callous and refusing to treat someone even though there is a bed and a doctor and even if there is no one else waiting for treatment is a callous act.

    A final question: isn’t the intentional infection (and subsequent self-quarantining) guarding against the possibility of new VOCs arising from the green IDs? But then, their intentional planned infections are also contributing to saving future medical resources. Why then refuse treating them in case they get badly sick?

  26. I forgot to post the last 2 sentences in the previous comment:

    Prof Carter I will stop here as far as this comment goes, thank you for stimulating my thinking regarding the ramifications of my expressed views on Covid, I wish you a good vacation!

  27. On different conceptions of freedom: I wonder whether *civil liberties* provide an alternative interpretation of what some lockdown critics may have in mind when claiming that lockdowns are singularly detrimental to freedom? Often when we speak of our “freedom of movement and association”, for example, we are particularly concerned about *politically imposed* restrictions. And there may be good instrumental reasons to treat these civil liberties as creating a strong (though defeasible) presumption against government interference (even if the laissez faire alternative leaves one open to various other — non-political — forms of interference or loss of negative freedom).

  28. Thanks to those who posted over the weekend. I owe people some responses. I’ll start with Andrew Lister and Ian Carter.

    Andrew Lister – The part of your comment that I’d like to pick up on is at the end. You write that even if both viruses and lockdowns restrict freedom there might still be “an important difference between an individual taking an action that creates a small increase in the risk of harm to someone else and the collectivity prohibiting people from for doing things, and punishing people for doing things”. That’s an interesting idea. I think you are suggesting that it is morally harder to justify the latter than the former. But why exactly would that be? From what you say, I see three potential answers:
    (1) Who is constraining. Individual virus spreaders are individuals. States imposing lockdowns are collectives.
    (2) Risk vs certainty. Individual virus spreaders just impose risks of unfreedom. States impose the certainty of a lockdown on their members.
    (3) The size of the effect. Individual virus spreaders have small effects. States imposing lockdowns have large effects.

    I’m not sure why (1) should matter. Consider the following analogy.

    The Coin Game. A group of 12 people are subject to a strange ordeal (think Squid Games but less gruesome). Each has a coin. If the 12 flip their coins, then for each coin landing heads, someone among the 12 will be locked in a room for 24 hours. The only way to avoid this outcome is if the 12 lock themselves in a room for 10 minutes. So, the group must take a vote: either (a) take individual risks of constraining by coin flipping or (b) collectively constrain via the 10-minute lock-in.

    How should they vote? Well, presumably, they will want to do some maths. They will want to work out which option is likely to maximise expected freedom. (The answer is (b) the 10-minute lock-in.) Maximising expected freedom is important. But here is something that is not important: the fact that the lock-in involves a loss of freedom through collective enforcement, while coin flipping involves a loss of freedom through individual action. Note that either way the members of the group are restricting each other’s freedom. Either they are doing this as a collective (10-minute lock-in) or they are doing this through individual action (coin flipping).

    I think what is true here about The Coin Game is true about the case of viruses and lockdowns. During an epidemic, we have a choice to make as citizens of a country. We can either limit each other’s freedom by spreading the virus to one another. Or we can limit each other’s freedom by imposing a lockdown. Since we cannot avoid limiting each other’s freedom, we should worry about how much freedom we take away but not whether we do this as individuals or as a collective.

    When it comes to (2), I think there is no genuine distinction here. People who are subject to an epidemic experience the risk of being infected if they circulate freely. People who are subject to a lockdown experience the risk of being punished if they circulate freely. So, both in the case of both viruses and lockdowns we are subject to risk not certainties. Not that there is any morally important difference between risks and certainties here. We should just adjust our cost-benefit calculations by factoring in risk – a point that I hope comes out in The Coin Game example.

    When it comes to (3), it is true that during an epidemic, each virus spreader has a comparatively small effect compared to a state imposing a lockdown. But note (a) that “small” effect might be infecting several people with a lethal virus (a big effect for the people infected) and (b) across a population, those “small” effects add up. When we are deciding, as a country, whether to impose a lockdown, we will have a huge effect either way. If we put the country under lockdown, we will have a huge effect. If we don’t put the country under lockdown, we will have a huge effect. So there is no option, when it comes to deciding on whether to impose a lockdown, to choose to have a small effect. That option is not available.

    Ian Carter – thanks for your thoughts on the value of freedom and the telic/deontic distinction. That’s interesting. I don’t think I have anything more to say on the issue except that if the moral basis of the negative conception is ‘respect for persons’ then, to my mind, that lends reason to prefer the moral responsibility version of negative liberty (ala Miller) over the causal responsibility version (ala Carter and Kramer).

  29. PART 1 of 2
    Hello again Prof Carter, I would like to address the second point of yours out of the three points that I selected. Here is what you said re the feasibility of my (indeed very vague) proposal:

    “I wrote above, “if feasible”, and that’s a big “if”. I have strong doubts about the feasibility of the proposal, above all for the following reason: if the virus spreads exponentially, as covid did, then it would take only a very small number of people from the voluntarily infected group to go back on their commitment not to come into contact with the lockdown adherents to produce an unjust prolongment of the lockdown at best, or a disastrous increase in involuntary covid infections at worse. To reduce the probability of this defection to a minimum, the segregation would have to be enforced very strictly. And the coercive mechanisms necessary for this effective enforcement would seem to make the scheme counterproductive in terms of overall freedom.”

    Prof Carter (or dear philosopher reading this comment) please do correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that in your paragraph you are not doubting the feasibility of my proposal, but its efficacy in protecting “overall freedom”, as you said. It is one thing to, say, not have enough technological assets to implement my proposal, or to have enough technology but only be capable of deploying it at a cost so astronomic that would render it a no-go from the beginning (I take it that this would be the legitimate meaning of “feasibility” in our discussion), and another thing to be able to put everything in place at a non-absurd cost (even though maybe at very high cost) but still need to do things necessary in the implementation of my proposal that would make the whole enterprise result in more unwanted unfreedom for the two subgroups of IDs than the unfreedom we were trying to avoid (what I would call “inefficacy in promoting freedom”). Let me grant for the sake of argument that the empirical presupposition of your worry is true, i.e. that in order to implement this ID scheme indeed we need much stricter coercive mechanisms than we needed for the blanket lockdowns the past 3 years. But then we need to ask: whose freedom these putative strict measures would be infringing upon? Presumably not the red ID holders who after all won’t be in the eye of the relevant authorities (because, after all, these are the people who explicitly chose to avoid the risk of getting infected), but the freedom of the green ID holders. But then whatever unfreedom these putative strict measures (which we now hypothesize, based on your expressed concern, will be infringing upon the freedom of the green ID holders) are imposing will have been accepted by the green ID holders as a lesser evil compared to the lockdowns and to the forced vaccinations. If they did not acquiesce to those ex hypothesi ultra-strict measures they wouldn’t have opted for a green ID in the first place. But this means that by their own green ID-holders’ lights there is lesss unfreedom under the green ID scheme than under the blanket lockdown scheme. Even if you judge, Dr Carter, as an outsider, that their unfreedom is objectively bigger under the green ID scheme but that they are not understanding this fact, you still, I would argue, have to grant that the disvalue of this (ex hypothesi) greater unfeedom under the green ID scheme is less than the disvalue of the blanket lockdowns for the green ID holders because it is an unfreedom which they opted for over the (ex hypothesi) lesser unfreedom of the blanket lockdowns. Is there something analytically defective in my thinking? (I think I can appeal here to a similar point that Prof Oberman made in paper: “The fact that someone is unfree to do something does not tell us how bad it is that they are unfree to do it. If someone is infected because of needless risks they voluntarily assumed, we might plausibly conclude that the unfreedom they suffer is less bad than it would have been had it been entirely unchosen. In this way, the Established View and the Revised View leave room for an ethics of choice and responsibility.” If you, Prof Carter, believe that the green IDs should, as a matter of self-respect, be resenting more the ex hypothesi higher unfreedom (which wiil be thrust upon them by their –according to you—mistaken choice of green IDs) than they resent the unfreedom of the blanket lockdowns (even though they personally –each one of them—accurately predict that they will experience the unfreedom of the green ID as more preferable and choose now to live under the green ID scheme for the few months (year? years?) it will need to last, while keeping the option to switch at any time they change their mind to a red ID), and if you argued that the facts about the aptness of the particular resentments justify third party or government intervention in the name of protecting the freedom of the green IDs by refusing the request for introduction of the green ID scheme against the wishes of the prospective green ID holders then I would think you were being paternalistic.
    To put the matter strikingly: suppose the authorities needed to monitor me 24/7 with a camera during the 14 days of my self-quarantine at home; I would still opt for this unfreedom over the unfreedom of the lockdowns and the forced vaccines. In fact, I would be really happy if I could escape the vaccine mandates at such a now-seeming-low-cost-to-me privacy loss (that’s how low the stigmatizing attacks by Public Health have made some of us stoop, that’s how ready I am to accept any indignity for the sake of avoiding the violation of my body and the social-death-by-stigma that awaits all of us “antivaxxers” (scare quotes because the term has ceased meaning anything useful it might/could have meant and is now connoting numerous deleterious features as being characteristic of people who choose not to be vaccinated. I have never said a single things against vaccines in all my life. I just never use them). I am almost sure the vast majority of the people I have in mind would agree to such a hypothetical 14-day intrusive monitoring: “let’s be done with it” I am speculating with high credence their thinking will be.

    If, on the other hand, what you have in mind Prof Carter is the presence of Police, or Police equipment in our close vicinity (I am granting arguendo that this could be necessary, but I am not sure why it would be more onerous than what was happening during the blanket lockdowns, where Police in Greece were circulating in the streets all day). I am still unfazed by the prospect, if only because the mandated vaccine is such a nightmare for my way of life. But I am pretty certain many people who are just eager to avoid lockdowns (and not the vaccine) will not mind the Police presence either. And, at any rate, if some green IDs change their mind as a result of starting experiencing their life as more onerous under the green ID they can always opt out of the green ID and ask for a red one (thus, effectively returning under a blanket lockdown regime which would have been the status quo for everyone had the green ID option not been introduced). Not to mention they will know before hand what the pros and cons of their options are, so any unfreedom that may look objectively greater to you (and which, let’s assume, is indeed objectively greater) will still be informedly chosen by those who opt for a green ID, hence its disvalue will be lesser than the disvalue of the (ex hypothesi) objectively lesser unfreedom of the blanket lockdowns. I tentatively argue that the act of choice should be the ultimate arbiter of the value or disvalue of the freedom though I am conceptually exercised over how to incorporate the subjective experience of the value or disvalue of the freedom in question into the equation. (Can I say that the more positively valenced my experience of the value of a freedom that was chosen by me is, then the greater its value is?) – and, correspondingly, that the less negatively valenced a subjective experience of the disvalue of an unfreedom that was chosen by me over some other unfreedom then the lesser its disvalue? This doesn’t leave any room for objectivity. Alternatively, can I make room for having mistaken beliefs about/subjective experiences of the value and disvalue of my freedoms and unfreedoms (which is my real view) by ignoring in my theory of freedom my subjective experience as possible grounds of freedom’s value and merely argue instead that my subjective experience (revealed in the act of free choice) is relevant only to grounding normative facts about the impermissibility of third party intervention that will constrain me in the name of my ex hypothesi higher overall objective freedom under the intervention regime? (I think I am vaguely gesturings towards some of the insights expressed in the last of Prof Chappell’s comments). After all, all I want is to avoid being forced to get vaccinated or being forced to not touch hands with consenting individuals or animals under a pretext of protection of my freedom. I have major intuitive objection against paternalism. Even if I mistakingly judge that my freedom is greater under the green ID scheme, it is still an empirical truth that people resent so much third party coercive interventions over their bodies that even if the intervention (via vaccine mandates together with refusing to introduce the pro tanto permissible in light of vaccine mandates green ID scheme) maximizes my overall freedom (i.e. even if it is indeed the case that deontic value is pro tanto increased via my increased freedom) it is still the case that, due to the experience of indignity that third party coercive intervention bestows, the agent will definitely be less well off (so telic value in the world decreases) , and maybe we should even say that the violation of her will is so disrespectful that, even though in case she had willingly chosen a blanket lockdown instead of a green ID regime she would have been overall more free, after the third party intervention she is less free (or her freedom has become less valuable ) under the blanket lockdown because she has been disrespected in that she was coerced by third parties in order to live now under a blanket lockdown regime that would indeed have been objectively more free and have more freedom value if she had chosen it freely but which now, in virtue of its being imposed by third parties, generates less freedom value than the value of freedom that the green ID scheme would have generated if she had been allowed to live under it. The third party intervention against instituting the green ID scheme subtracted value from the higher-value freedom that Prof Carter was estimating the blanket lockdown scheme would generate. Therefore total deontic value in the world is all things considered lower now than if the green ID scheme had been allowed to be introduced, and in spite of the fact that if the agent had the ex hypothesi proper moral perceptions and had chosen the ex hypothesi more free blanket lockdown then total deontic value in the world generated from her higher freedom would have been the highest. Or so I tentatively argue. (Can I additionally grant tentatively that the third party imposition did not decrease my overall freedom or its value but that the disrespect generated by the third party imposition reduces total deontic value more than the increase in my freedom does? I am not concerned with telling the Public Health official that he is violating my freedom, I am concerned with telling him to lay his hands off me and that, if he indeed does lay them, to at least stop insulting me by telling me that the coercion is deontically good for me — the European Court of Human Rights has already told him that the telic value generated in the world through the official’s protecting my well-being with his mandated vaccine is none of his business and that he can only mandate it for the sake of others.

    I think it is becoming clear to everyone that this is my first time ever attempting to think analytically about freedom (special thanks to Profs Oberman and Carter for offering conceptual tools for better analytic thinking about freedom. I haven’t even finished Prof Oberman’s paper yet). I understand that my analytic gaucheness is tormenting the brains of philosophers who are reading (my apologies again, I immediately stated in my first comment that I am not a philosopher in order to protect the philosophers who don’t have time to read and want to concentrate only on real analytic philosophy), and normally I wouldn’t have ventured to post a comment on a subject (freedom) I have no analytic clue about out of respecting the philosophers’ enjoyment during their intellectually experimental forays at Pea Soup, but I plea that the subject of the discussion is so socially consequential and so relevant to the injustice some of us have been suffering the past year (an injustice that has not been voiced in the public dialogue) that I felt I had to introduce in an as analytically-respectable form as I can some major issues pertinent to Covid and freedom that have not been part of the public dialogue. I have made similar attempts at Prof Richard Chappell’s old blog, at Daily Nous and at the Practical Ethics blog of University of Oxford. If freedom from unnecessary constraints is to come, it will be because only philosophers are so constrained by their intellectual habits that they will admit in the end, however reluctantly or not, that we indeed have a moral case to make, one that does not involve an ugly freedom of ignoring the fears of those who choose to be protected from the virus.

    Coming back to the subject, If someone could suggest a real-life situation that would give flesh to Prof Carter’s worry it would be great. I can’t think of anything that would make me worry and opt out of the green ID scheme. If I decided that due to Police presence I felt more unfree under the green ID regime, why wouldn’t I just switch to the red ID one, which is the one that prevailed during our experience with Covid?

    At the end of the day, who looks more intrusive to me? The State Authorities that will, let’s assume, be keeping an intrusive eye on whether I will renege on my word and try to approach on purpose red IDs in order to infect them, or the Public Health official, needle in hand, calling me pejoratives day in day out for the last 3 years and threatening to put his vaccine in my body in order to inject a not-zero-risk medicine in my body while I am telling him that I am not a threat because I offer to be intentionally infected and that I don’t want to be injected with his vaccine, and that I also resent the stigma he is manufacturing against me? (yes, I know the average risk of death from the vaccine is negligibly low in absolute terms and orders of magnitude lower than the corresponding average risk of Covid death for almost all age ranges. The non-zero risk is pertinent, I think, to how much the Public Health official is disrespecting me in light of the fact that it is possible that a vaccine serious injury could happen to someone who wouldn’t have got hurt by Covid, and in light of the fact that he does impose this risk against my will in the name of protecting me, not the third parties whose protection I cater for through my offer for intentional infection. I feel less disrespected when he imposes the seat belt on me, because seat belts can’t injure one—though I read en passant in a paper of Prof Savulescu that there has been some injury or some death (or both) from seat belts. I am speaking generically when I say that seat belts can’t hurt you).

    Continuing in Part 2

  30. Comments on Dionissis Mitropoulos and Joe Bowen

    Dionissis Mitropoulos – many thanks for your contributions. I am going to focus on the suggestion that we could segregate ourselves between (let’s call them) the Red people, who want the protection of a lockdown and the Green people, who would prefer to run the risk of being infected. Like Ian, I think the segregation proposal is probably infeasible but, also like Ian, I think suggestions like this can be useful in stretching our imaginations and testing our ideas. Three points in response.

    1. Unlike Ian, I’m not sure the proposal would necessarily increase negative freedom. Consider first the Green people. Let’s separate the Green people into two groups. There are the Green people who become infected and there are the Green people who are not yet infected. When it comes to the former, it is not clear that their freedom is unconstrained. It is true that they made a choice which led to their infection but, as I note in the article, their infection is not purely self-imposed since it takes two for any infection to occur. The crucial question to ask is whether a person’s freedom can be constrained when they play a necessary but insufficient role in creating some constraint. The example I offer in the article is this: “Carys cannot or will not dig a pit. Moya digs one. Carys jumps in”. Is Carys’ freedom constrained in this case? In the article, I note (to my surprise) that several leading negative liberty theorists answer “yes” to this question. Perhaps they are wrong, but the issue requires some attention.

    Then there is the freedom of the Green people who have not yet been infected. In the article, I argue that people who have not yet been infected have their freedom constrained by the circulation of a virus whether or not they are willing to take the risk of being infected. Again, consider the analogy with pits. Even people who are not afraid of falling into pits have their freedom constrained when other people dig pits. When other people dig pits, they can no longer go to the places that previously existed, before the pits were dug, without becoming trapped in those pits. So, the Green people who have not yet been infected would be like people who venture out into a landscape full of pits. It is true that they venture out voluntarily, but still their freedom is constrained.

    2. Now consider the Red people. It is true that if the Red people voluntarily restrict their own movements, then their freedom is not restricted by a lockdown. Still, their freedom is restricted by the virus. To see this, take an extreme example. Imagine, that segregation is achieved by all the Green people moving to the North and all the Red people moving to the South. Let’s also imagine that, because the Red people are so cautious, the virus stays largely in the North. Still, the Red people are subject to restriction since they cannot go to the North without risk of infection. They are, effectively, restricted to the South. If they originally lived in the North and had to move out to go South, that loss of freedom would be particularly felt.

    3. All this said, I should stress that I am writing here about the effects of the segregation suggestion on freedom. I think you are probably more interested in the broader question of what we should do all things considered. So, let us remember here that there are more things to care about in politics than merely freedom. Whether or not your segregation suggestion would maximise freedom, it might be justified – or defeated – on other grounds.

    Joseph Bowen – In the article, I argue that a republican must believe that it is better to have a lockdown than no lockdown even in a case in which voluntary social distancing would prove sufficient to control an epidemic. Voluntary social distancing would still leave people subject to domination. To my mind, it is obvious impermissible to subject people to a lockdown if it is unnecessary to control an epidemic. So, republicanism must be rejected.

    You offer the following response on behalf of republicanism. A republican can concede that (1) a lockdown that is unnecessary to combat viruses would still be necessary to avoid domination and yet argue that (2) the imposition of such a lockdown would not be justified given the importance of other values. Republicans must believe that non-domination matters but they need not believe that it is the only thing that matters. A pluralist republican need not then accept the implausible position I have attributed to her.

    I don’t think this response can work. Note two things. First, a pluralist republican must believe that a society with less domination is better, other things being equal, than a society with more domination. Second, a pluralist republican must believe that non-domination is of great importance; something that is worth achieving even at a price.

    Now consider two cases
    Case 1. We have a society in which everyone is following the recommended social distancing guidelines. A republican that we introduce a lockdown to enforce these guidelines. Such a lockdown will do nothing to combat viruses. It will only threaten people with punishments to do something that they are voluntarily doing anyway. Before taking a vote, we do a thorough cost-benefit analysis. We discover that imposing the lockdown will generate no further costs or benefits. There are no other values to consider. The only thing to consider is whether to limit (what republicans call) “domination” by way of a lockdown or simply continue with our voluntary system.

    In Case 1, I think voluntarism is obviously preferable and that the introduction of a lockdown would be unjustified. A pluralist republican must disagree. They must support a lockdown.

    Case 2. Just like Case 1 except that – as in the real world – a lockdown will cost money. We will have to spend money on the extra police and paperwork, money that we could spend on other valuable activities such as health, education, science, entertainment, and the arts.

    In Case 2, a pluralist republican is not necessarily bound to support a lockdown. If the costs of introducing a lockdown are sufficiently high, they can object to a lockdown on the basis of other values besides non-domination. But still, the costs must be sufficiently high. For again, a pluralist republican would not be a republican worthy of that name if they did not think that non-domination is of great importance; something that is worth achieving even at a price.

    Suppose a republican is willing to pay X to achieve non-domination through a lockdown. In Case 2, a lockdown costs X. If so, the republican must support the lockdown.

    To my mind, the idea that a lockdown would be justified in Case 2 is even more ridiculous than in Case 1. If a lockdown is unnecessary to combat viruses, we shouldn’t introduce it. If a lockdown is unnecessary to combat viruses and it is costly to enforce, we especially shouldn’t introduce it.

    If your response here is that a republican could always just bite the bullet and support a lockdown in Case 1 and Case 2 then, yes, you are right. A republican can always just bite the bullet. The question for the rest of us is ‘should we follow them?’. I think the case of lockdowns and viruses helps to show us that we shouldn’t. The view that we should avoid (what republicans call) “domination” might seem plausible in the abstract. But the view has implausible implications. Once these implications are revealed, we should abandon the view altogether.

  31. PART 2 of 2

    Given the above, let me clarify what you, Prof Carter, asked me to clarify. You said:

    “Regarding feasibility, you [dionisis] write: “impracticality, if it is not impossibility, cannot normatively trump antipaternalist freedom.” I’m not quite sure what you [dionisis] mean by that. Personally, I sympathize with theorists like G.A. Cohen who argue that evaluating unrealistic proposals is an important exercise because it better informs us about how to evaluate realistic ones.

    You are right that my sentence was unclear. Let’s drop the “antipaternalist” and stick to the sentence “impracticality, if it is not impossibility, cannot normatively trump freedom.”( I had added the “antipaternalist” in order to signal that I do not accept any claim that government intervention may be justified in order to protect my freedom against my will instead of protecting the well being or freedom of third parties). So what did I mean? I meant that if the proposal is feasible (i.e. not impossible), in the sense of there being the possibility of putting together all the resources required, at a not-absurd monetary cost (which, I stipulate, allows for an ultra-expensive cost), then there can’t be any justification for violating important freedoms of those who ask for a green ID, such as the freedom from unwanted medical interventions or freedom from very onerous lockdowns, under the pretext that the scheme is impractical (i.e. cumbersome to finally put together and/or merely expensive). So long as the cost is not absurd, freedom of the variety I described (from bodily medical interventions,, or from onerous lockdowns) is, I argue, in principle normatively weightier than the cumbersomeness of assembling the resources or the high cost (so long as the cost is not absurd). So, to respond to your subsequent sentence, I don’t see my plan as “unrealistic” ( by “unrealistic” i mean “infeasible”). I don’t think that the resources needed for guarding against our “defecting”, as you put it, will turn out to be absurdly expensive. After all, the Authorities only need to monitor very carefully those of us that are concurrently infected, not all planned infections will be occurring the same day. By the way, if the Authorities can monitor our position through our mobile phones, can’t they monitor the number of green IDs that would be under infection the particular day? Of course I understand that you give a different meaning to the word “unrealistic”, a meaning having to do something with freedom-reduction but I need something concrete to be said by you (or someone else in this thread) in order to respond. I tried to speculate accurately what you could be meaning by “feasible” or “unrealistic” in real life, i hope i didn’t do much injustice to your sentences. I am not even American to know the reality on the ground in the US, so I can’t imagine what you may have in mind.

    Here is your last sentence:

    However, at the end of the day we need to decide what to do, and that means descending from “ideal theory” to “non-ideal theory”, taking account of feasibility constraints.

    I claim that if the monetary cost of the resources required for my plan is absurd then my plan is unrealistic/unfeasible (what counts as an absurd cost?). And I claim that if the overall disvalue of unfreedom for the red IDs goes higher than if the lockdowns were blanket ones, due to whatever harsh coercive measures you hypothesize, then my plan is pro tanto inadvisable so long as it is unacceptable to the red IDs (what if, say, moved by solidarity or in reciprocity to our offer to be intentionally infected the red IDs acquiesce to a temporary greater disvalue of their unfreedom for our green ID sake?). But I need a concrete worry about my plan. I don’t see why there is any need for red IDs to suffer more harsh surveillance than under the original blanket lockdown, and I don’t see why green IDs will be experiencing more unfreedom disvalue than in the original lockdown if they maintain the option to switch to a red ID anytime they want (after a required number of days of quarantine to make sure they are entering their new red ID group clear from the virus). And, finally, if the number of the prospective green IDs is too big and hence the concerns of Prof Carter materialize for the given number of green IDs, why not start calculating now how many green IDs the State can tolerate for the next dangerous and highly transmissible VOC without exceeding the limits of harshness in surveillance that motivated the worry of Prof Carter? Couldn’t the State just settle for accommodating with a regime of preplanned intentional infections scheme only, say, those determined to never get vaccinated? After all, these (we) would be the most risky persons liable to infect someone in the supermarket in the long run (and we would be especially dangerous to the immunocompromised and, more generally, to the vulnerable). Why isn’t the State making sure that at least we, i.e. those “antivaxxers” who opt for the preplanned intentional infection scheme, get our intentional infection for the sake of the maximization of the protection of third parties?

    I am ending here this comment Prof Carter.

  32. Finally Richard Chappell – Thanks so much for both your posts. The two posts have separate ideas, but I see a common theme: an attempt to rescue the idea that lockdowns limit freedom in a way that viruses do not. Your first suggestion is that the matter might be simply empirical. Lockdowns, you conjecture, limit freedom more than Covid. I am not as sure this is true, but I won’t make any pronouncements about Covid. Again, the point of the paper is not to pass judgements on the Covid lockdowns. It is rather to reflect upon the relationship between freedom and viruses, with an open mind as to what kind of virus may come our way. The central point of the article is not that lockdowns always increase overall freedom. But rather that lockdowns can protect freedom and thus there might be arguments to be made for lockdowns on the basis of freedom rather than (just) other values. Note, further, that there may be more than one freedom-based argument for lockdowns. As I say in the article, lockdowns might (a) increase overall freedom, (b) protect more valuable freedoms or (c) improve the distribution of freedom. So even if a lockdown did not do (a) it might do (b) or (c).

    In your second post, you attempt to draw the distinction between lockdowns and viruses on different grounds. You talk about the restrictions of “civil liberties” that are “politically imposed”. I’m not sure either of these terms can rescue the distinction. The civil liberties you pick out – freedom of movement and association – are constrained by viruses as well as lockdowns. So, the weight of your argument must fall on the second term: “politically imposed”. But what does “politically imposed” mean? It might mean “imposed for political reasons” e.g. tyrannical bans on free speech designed to keep the ruling party in power. But then it isn’t clear that lockdowns are “political imposed”. (Or at least, any lockdown that has any hope of being justified will not be imposed for political reasons; see my response to Ilkin above). Perhaps “politically imposed” means “imposed through political bodies” – a state rather than individual virus spreaders. But, as I explained in my response to Andrew Lister above, I don’t think that distinction is morally important. Finally, “political imposed” might just mean “intentionally imposed”. Lockdowns are intentionally imposed. Viruses are not. So perhaps the distinction between lockdowns and viruses might be defended on the basis of intention? In the article, I argue that freedom can be unintentionally constrained and unintentional restrictions on freedom can be of great moral disvalue. Note, moreover, that the intentional/unintentional distinction could be used to distinguish coin flipping from the ten-minute lock-in in The Coin Game (see my response to Andrew Lister above). And yet that distinction does not seem morally important in that case.

  33. Hi Kieran, thanks for your response.

    re: civil liberties, I agree that government actions aren’t intrinsically morally different. I was instead suggesting an *instrumental* basis for norms against government violations of civil liberties.

    Compare: it restricts my negative freedom when you don’t let me into your house. But it doesn’t violate my civil liberties (and nor, I think, do viruses). By “civil liberties”, we mean something different. And I think we’ve good reason to regard civil liberties as (instrumentally) morally important, no matter that we can imagine hypothetical cases in which non-political violations of freedom would be just as bad or worse.

    Otherwise, it seems we end up in a situation where you’ve undermined the political force of freedom-based objections to arbitrary imprisonment and the like. Sure, we could argue that *conceptually*, arbitrary imprisonment “might (a) increase overall freedom, (b) protect more valuable freedoms or (c) improve the distribution of freedom.” But the effect of such an argument is to weaken our ability to protect important freedoms in practice.

    So, a question for you: Do you think it’s *ever* legitimate to frame political disputes as conflicts between freedom vs safety? Consider Trump’s “Muslim ban”, or a hypothetical policy of “pre-punishing” individuals thought to have a statistically higher than average chance of committing serious crimes. That strikes me as a paradigmatic case where we want to appeal to freedom as a strong presumptive constraint against overblown safety fears. But your rhetoric on lockdowns suggests that you would then accuse us of a conceptual mistake, of failing to appreciate that this is *really* a tradeoff of freedom vs freedom, and there’s nothing *distinctively* anti-freedom about locking up innocent individuals.

    Is there a conceptual difference between lockdowns and pre-punishment, or do you endorse these implications?

  34. Thanks Richard. That’s helpful. I now think I have a much clearer sense of what your point now. I think the way I would put it is that you are talking about rights. People have rights to civil liberties. Not ever constraint on human action violates rights. Indeed, you could go further – and I think you do go further – and endorse rights-based conception of freedom itself. A rights-based conception is a moralised conception that says that someone’s freedom is restricted when their rights are restricted but not otherwise. On a right’s-based conception, an innocent prisoner has her freedom restricted by being imprisoned; a duly punished criminal does not.

    So, to be clear, we have three kinds of conceptions here:
    1. A non-moralised conception of freedom.
    2. A moralised conception of freedom.
    2.a. A rights-based conception of freedom, which is a subtype of a moralised conception of freedom.

    In the article, I avoid moralised conceptions of freedom. This is because I’m trying to focus in on freedom-based arguments for and against lockdowns. One cannot make freedom-based argument for or against lockdowns (or anything else) if one starts with a moralised conception. Why not? Because an argument for or against a lockdown is about what we should do. Moralised conceptions have loaded their definitions of freedom with thoughts about what we should do.

    Imagine we tried to have a debate over lockdowns and freedom using a moralised conception of freedom. A supporter of lockdowns would probably say something like the following: “We have a right to health. We have no right to infect others with a lethal virus. Lockdowns help protect our right to health. So, lockdowns do not curtail our freedom”. An opponent might respond: “But we have rights to civil liberties. Governments can violate our rights. Viruses cannot. Therefore, a lockdown curtails our freedom. Viruses do not.” Is there a substantive disagreement here? Yes, I think there is. The substantive disagreement is over rights: the nature of rights, what kind of entities can violate rights and what kinds of goods we have a right to. There is nothing wrong with exploring those issues. But note what has dropped out of the picture: freedom. The two sides are just using “freedom” to add some sparkle to how they present the conclusions of their arguments. Freedom is not the basis of their arguments.

    Note, I’m not necessarily against a moralised or rights-based conceptions of freedom. I just think clarity is crucial so that we can properly judge the arguments people make and avoid the lure of ultimately circular arguments.

    One last point. Am I arguing that there is never a trade-off between (say) freedom and safety? Your comments made me think about this further. I think there is, actually, space for a trade-off despite everything I say in the article about how viruses restrict freedom and everything I would have to say, given what I say in the article, about how terrorism restricts freedom. Viruses and terrorism are both restrictions on freedom as well as on safety. Both lockdowns and anti-terrorism measures can be defended on freedom grounds. Still, safety is different to freedom and the two can conflict. Consider this sentence: “The young Siddhartha grew up as a Prince, in perfect safety, effectively imprisoned within the palace so that he never experienced the dangers – the violence and the poverty – that existed beyond the palace walls”. Does the sentence make sense? Absolutely. So, safety cannot be the same as freedom. When Siddhartha is able to leave the palace, he is both more free and less safe. What exactly is the difference between the two values? To answer that question requires more thought. But, as a first stab, I think at least part of the answer is that the opposite of safety is something like harm, while the opposite of freedom is constraint.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  35. PART 1

    Hello Prof Oberman and thank you very much for your response to my outline of a plan for the next pandemic. I will respond to your objections but let me first stress what I merely hinted at in my previous comments: almost all the things I am saying are mainly motivated by reaction to what as I see as bodily freedom violations in the form of mandated medical interventions. Between lockdowns and vaccine mandates there is not even a question to my mind as to which is the lesser evil – I can easily endure any lockdown regime, no matter how misguided I consider its blanket version to be (and inimical to my personal conception of what counts as living in harmony with Nature). Hence my last suggestion in the second part of my second reply to Prof Carter to the effect that, no matter what lockdown regime will prevail during the next pandemic, those determined to never get vaccinated who, additionally, are willing to assuage their fellow citizens’ fears of getting infected by the unvaccinated should be allowed to offer to get intentionally infected in an institutionalized way in lieu of getting vaccinated, and earn back whatever civil freedoms vaccination confers (being allowed to join the University included). I am still marveling at how libertarians can now ignore positions close to the libertarian- to-the-level-of-anarchism suggestion which I had made more than a year ago at Prof Richard Chappell’s old blog. I had said, in effect, that, given my determination to never get vaccinated, and given also that I did not mind catching the particular virus (I don’t mind catching any easily transmissible virus that I would have caught if there had not been vaccines and/or lockdowns in place, that’s part of my conception of living in harmony with Nature), I was willing out of respect for my fellow citizens’ fears of bodily harm (and such fears, whether they are fears or infections by virus or fears of bodily attacks by third parties, are agitating people and make them call for coercive protective mechanisms), to go get myself intentionally infected and then self quarantine until I developed immunity, if my fellow citizens asked me to; And I would have told my fellow citizens that in this way we can avoid any coercion of me and people like me, i.e. in a way such that we agree that we the unvaccinated can cease being a threat to them thanks to our offer for getting intentionally infected and then by making up good on our offer if they agreed (and why would they not?). This seems to me a cl;early libertarian arrangement because it was settling the issue without even the introduction of a coercive mechanism, it left everything to a free contract between citizens. I still marvel that no libertarian has come forward to suggest the next best thing from a libertarian perspective, namely the offer by the State of the option for intentional infection of those who don’t want to get vaccinated. If we are to ever become truly civilized (which I take it to mean, among other things, to learn to live without needing Police to settle our differences fairly) then we must evince a willingness to learn and (safely) experiment with how to live without needing coercive mechanisms. A great starting point would be to realize that respecting peoples’ fears, irrespective of whether they are warranted or unwarranted fears, is a good route towards avoiding the institution of coercive mechanisms (this means I must respect my fellow citizen’s fear of viruses, and that she must respect my silly – I grant for the sake of argument—fear of the vaccine, and hence she must join her voice with mine when I am asking for my institutionalized intentional infection that is an equally protective alternative to the mandate of vaccines that she condones, a mandate which is coercing us to get vaccinated in the name of her safety). I am mentioning all this, Prof Oberman, in order to explain that I don’t need argument to be persuaded about how some people can have their freedom violated by virus infection because I am not a markets-only libertarian who opposes lockdowns only but who has not any real concern for freedom generally but only for that of the markets – the latter evidenced in the absence of any libertarian coming forward to suggest the option of preplanned intentional infection as an alternative to vaccination. It is of course also evidenced in the absence of any objection to Muslim treatment in the US, as you hinted (the supposed fear of a slide into a new authoritarianism).
    But the concerns that Prof Chappell mentioned in his last comment seem to me to have bite. Can I make a point similar to his in the following form? Here it goes: talk of freedom violation is more apt in certain situations when some particular freedoms seem to be under threat of violation by the State or some such powerful actor (such as medical Establishments) without the violations’ being in any way necessary to achieve the stated goals. The blanket lockdowns seem to be indeed unnecessary given that (it seems to me) there are viable schemes of protecting only those who want to be protected, never mind that this could indeed result to more nonmoral freedom violation in terms of death by virus of the risk-takers because the more risk-prone among us would have opted to not wait for the vaccine. In other words, even if total nonmoral freedom had been reduced via the deaths by virus of the, let’s stipulate, reckless risk takers (compared to the total nonmoral freedom of the blanket lockdown regime) , it is still apt to talk about a freedom violation by a measure imposed by the State or some other powerful actor in case there was an alternative measure that wouldn’t have violated the desired freedom but would have allowed those making a mistaken choice to die, thus bringing upon them an objective unfreedom (i.e. the unfreedom caused by their deaths) which they chose to risk for the sake of a freedom that they, (mistakenly, let’s stipulate) saw as more valuable. Cocktail parties over freedom from death, let’s say. They opted to have the freedom to enjoy the former risking the latter; but then, isn’t it apt for them to talk about freedom violations in case they were willing to live under a regime that guaranteed the protection of those who wanted to be protected but additionally allowed the cocktail party goers to satisfy their preferences? I know that you, Prof Oberman, cater for all this in your paper, you took for granted that the lockdowns were necessary for the sake of argument so that you would make certain points relevant to how viruses can violate freedoms, but I guess it seems very clear to some outsiders (as commenter Huseinli first noted) that there are alternatives to blanket lockdowns (my own suggestion being one) that are worth to be considered for the next time we have a pandemic, and the invocation of freedom in face of States and Public Health authorities that violated certain freedoms without showing any sign that they appreciate that there must be some public discussion in the future re alternatives to blanket lockdowns and alternatives to mandated-vaccination-without-options-for-intentional-infections seems to me very apt (what with the creeping worry that now that the relevant authorities have seen how many medicine-related constraints on freedom and impositions on bodies can be instituted without any substantial resistance), without denying in the slightest that there are unfreedoms that are imposed by infections and deaths by virus. I guess your article is required reading for ugly-freedom supporters who do not conceptually appreciate that there are legitimate concerns of those who wanted the blanket lockdowns, concerns that can be cast in freedom jargon (for the rest of us your article is useful for learning how to formally think about freedom and viruses). But for those of us who do appreciate the moral implications of your points and are merely trying, in the face of future pandemics, to save some freedoms that matter a lot to us while taking care to first save the most fundamental freedoms of the supporters of blanket lockdowns (their freedom from death or injury by virus, their freedom from poverty etc) it is apt to use freedom talk if only to ask for some public consideration of our (diverse) positions in a rhetoric that confers to our position some moral authority, a moral authority that is badly needed given how much we have been silenced during the pandemic, and given that both States and medical Establishments have enough power to make the unnecessary disregard of certain freedoms of those of us who hold minority positions a feature of future societies – the unvaccinated are socially stigmatized every day and almost no one knows that many unvaccinated are willing to be intentionally infected and that this gives to those unvaccinated a moral pardon for their unwillingness to vaccinate and for their subsequent endangering of their fellow citizens. Even those unvaccinated I have spoken with (and all of who agreed that intentional infection would have been acceptable to them) could not realize how powerful their moral argument against being garishly criticized was. I know what I am about to say is going to sound hubristic, what with invoking a concept from feminist philosophy in defense of a subgroup of the population that, sadly, is majority patriarchal, but let me assure feminists and trans activists and Black liberation activists that I am not even remotely claiming that our (i.e. the unvaccinated who accept to be intentionally infected) suffering is even a trillionth of their suffering (not to mention that we haven’t yet reached 3 years of being treated unjustly, it’s still 2 years plus). I only want to draw attention to the kind of epistemic injustice we are facing, which seems to me functionally similar to what I am guessing was the injustice women were facing before the concept of sexual harassment became known (“guessing”, because I am even more of an ignoramus of feminist philosophy than I am on the literature on freedom, I just have my basic intuitions in the right place but that’s all). The unvaccinated and the general public have no clue that when the particular subset of the unvaccinated are being called selfish or free riders even though they are willing to be infected intentionally in an institutionalized way they are being wronged, nor that this lack of knowledge constitutes/causes an epistemic injustice. I don’t know if the similarity of the wrong the unvaccinated suffer can legitimately be called “hermeneutical injustice” because a paper I had read from Prof Kristie Dotson said that Prof Miranda Fricker was applying the concept of epistemic injustice only in connection to historically oppressed groups, and the unvaccinated who are appreciative of the idea of institutionalized preplanned intentional infection are certainly not a historically oppressed group; the most that can be said to our advantage is that the medically fascist night is still young (not even 3 full years long yet) but that, if left to fester, then we will become a historically oppressed group by Public Health and States. I remember though that I also read in Prof Dotson’s paper that epistemic injustice can involve non-historically oppressed groups. Prof Dotson’s paper was called “A cautionary tale: On limiting epistemic oppression” and it also referred to a concept that, if it can be applied to single individuals, is pertinent to my experience in trying to discuss the predicament of the particular subset of the unvaccinated. I am referring to the concept of contributory injustice, which I understand to be pointing, among other things, in the direction of an epistemic community’s (or even a single agent’s?) facing inability to secure uptake of their expressed perspective on “an important matter of social policy” due to some willful reluctance on the part of policy makers to acquire the necessary tools for knowing whole parts of the world (the whole of my last sentence is a concoction of sentences I read in the paper, I do not have a clear concept of what contributory injustice is other than that it very likely includes, among other things, epistemic injustices under which the agents know very well what they are complaining about, they are justified in complaining, but the relevant institutional or quasi-institutional players refuse to listen under various epistemic pretexts, or without a pretext at all. The agents are not allowed to contribute with their knowledge to shared epistemic resources relevant to important social policy. Now I will stop here before my ignorance of the literature does any more damage to Prof Dotson’s paper, or to Prof Fricker’s views, or to feminist philosophy in general. All these thoughts came to me because Prof Oberman discusses the aptness of freedom talk in connection with lockdowns, and my experience the last 3 years has been one of oppression by powerful players, and talk of freedom follows naturally under such circumstances of oppression characterized by immense imbalance in power.

    Continuing in part 2

  36. PART 2
    Prof Oberman I just saw that you had replied to Prof Chappell, and that many of the things you wrote are pertinent to thoughts I was trying to express with this comment of mine, I will try to rewrite the second part of my comment in a way that takes into account the distinctions you are drawing in your latest comment. As I have promised I will respond to your stated objections to my outline of a proposal for the next pandemic.

  37. With apologies for arriving to this conversation so late, I wanted to follow up on KO’s response to RC’s comment. Kieran writes that moralized conceptions of freedom will not do because “Moralised conceptions have loaded their definitions of freedom with thoughts about what we should do.” But I suspect that many of the people who object to the lockdowns on freedom grounds do have a conception of rights in mind, and that explains in part why they are especially concerned with governmental coercion (which is what we see in the comments here) I wonder at this point though, whether there’s something like a verbal dispute here. My guess is that the popular arguments about freedom are moralized and people are just using liberty language when talking about rights.

    KO then says that this may reveal that we have a substantive disagreement over what rights people have, not a debate about freedom. But then KO seems to also suggest that since critics of lockdowns misunderstand what freedom is, they are mistaken in opposing lockdowns. But if we reinterpret the case against lockdowns in these more moralized terms, couldn’t someone grant that lockdowns are not a constraint but also argue that, nevertheless, people’s rights against contagious transmission aren’t strong enough to justify violating people’s presumptive rights to movement and association?

    To close, an unrelated point– In the comments KO cites the terrible scale of government failure during the pandemic, partly due to lockdown opponents’ misguided interpretation of what freedom requires. But whether we’re talking about freedom as a non-constraint or freedom in the moralized sense, it strikes me that public officials also failed to understand what freedom required. For example, by prohibiting people from using unapproved vaccines or by preventing researchers from running challenge trials, public officials’ imposition of constraints/violations of rights worsened the pandemic while also limiting freedom and violating rights. In light of this, whatever the merits of a lockdown policy (I’m skeptical) I think that many officials lack the standing to say that they are entitled to impose lockdowns for the sake of freedom and safety.

  38. Hello Prof Oberman. I had left a response for you, as i had promised, since August 1. It stayed up until yesterday (August 12) but now i see someone (inexplixably) deleted it. I am just letting you know. Thank you so much for this great discussion that your brilliant paper generated.

  39. Hello Prof Flanigan. I had left a response for you on August 8 or 9, it stayed up until yesterday, and then got deleted. I thought of letting you know.

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