By Michael Kowalik.
The worldwide spread of SARS-CoV-2 has re-invigorated the debate about the ethical permissibility of vaccine mandates and immunity certification. Public attitudes towards this complex issue are nevertheless dominated by fear, half-truths and ungrounded value-judgements, limiting the scope of rational deliberation in favour of ideological partisanship. My paper, ‘Ethics of Vaccine Refusal’, is an attempt to ground this conflict in the normative framework that already informs our moral intuitions about discrimination on the basis of innate biological characteristics. The prevailing moral judgment about discrimination on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation is not arbitrary but stems from the inherent value of our innate constitution, which includes the healthy, natural state of our immune system as one of its characteristics.
Vaccines are intended to augment the healthy, natural state of our immune system.
Mandatory vaccination, immunity passports, or any other form of discrimination on the basis of the vaccination status are defeasible not because they limit basic freedoms and rights but because they discriminate against (and thus devalue) the innate constitution of all human beings. Any prospective health benefits associated with this kind of discrimination are not ethically relevant. The core argument is constructed as follows: a) all human actions and social norms presuppose a commitment to the value of human agency ‘in virtue of the capacity to bestow worth on our aims by rationally choosing them’ – to reject this premise would be self-defeating; b) body-autonomy is one of the constitutive conditions of human agency; c) it entails the exclusive ownership of our innate biological characteristics (these are constitutive of our objective identity); d) discrimination on the basis of innate biological characteristics negates the value of human agency and is therefore self-defeating. In practical terms, vaccine mandates imply that all humans are born in a defective, inherently harmful state; a repugnant conclusion.
There is something intrinsically valuable about our innate constitution – the kind of being we inherently are, no matter how fragile – that we must respect about ourselves and others if we value human agency. We must, first of all, value our kind ’as it is’ in order to bestow worth on what we ‘ought to become’, and to pursue any ontological transformation by devaluing the innate constitution of other members of the kind would, paradoxically, negate the value of our own judgement.
The consequences of such a flawed judgment are not ‘merely ethical’ but also, inescapably, ontological. The present project is an extension of my earlier, more formal work in Metanormative Realism, identifying a range of conditions that must be adhered to in our social relations in order to maintain an integrated, rational Self. Any departure from these conditions would result in progressive dis-integration of Self; a metaphysical suicide. Our ontological dependence on the consistency of reflexive relations with other rational beings is coextensive with certain ‘ethical’ norms that are thus inextricably bound to self-interest. The present paper should be read in view of this broader analytical context.
Paper title: Ethics of vaccine refusal
Author: Michael Kowalik
Affiliations: Independent Researcher
Competing interests: None