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Values for victims and vectors of disease
  1. Elsa Kugelberg
  1. Department of Politics and International Relations, Oxford University, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Elsa Kugelberg, Department of Politics and International Relations, Oxford University, Oxford OX1 3UQ, UK; elsa.kugelberg{at}


John and Curran have convincingly shown that Scanlonian contractualism is a valuable resource for evaluating pandemic response policies, and that we should reject cost–benefit analysis in favour of a contractualist framework. However, they fail to consider the part of contractualism that Scanlon constructed precisely to deal with the question of when the state can restrict individuals from making choices that are harmful to themselves and others: the value of choice view (VoC). In doing so, they leave it open for opponents of lockdowns to misuse contractualism to justify mistaken policies. This is because the most powerful contractualist objections to locking down are likely to be based on the VoC.

When we apply the value of choice view (VoC), we see that a lockdown policy’s justifiability depends on the extent to which particular values of choice are found to be threatened by the policy in question, and what safeguards policy-makers have put in place to increase the value of choice and protect people from the harmful consequences of lockdown. Without the VoC, it is harder to explain why lockdowns, to be non-rejectable, must have certain features. With the VoC, the case for contractualism over cost benefit analysis (CBA) can be made even stronger.

  • COVID-19
  • ethics
  • public policy
  • paternalism

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  • Twitter @elsakugelberg

  • Contributors EK is the sole author.

  • Funding UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, grant no: AH/R012709/1.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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