Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

The Ethics of "Off-Label" Vaccinations for Kids

The WSJ reports that some parents hope to get their kids (under 12) vaccinated against Covid, as "the FDA’s approval generally means vaccines are eligible for off-label use, meaning beyond approved populations."  However, "the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have emphasized that the safest thing for this group of children is to wait for more data to be analyzed."I'm curious whether it's really true that waiting is "safest", or whether these advisories ignore status quo risk. I don't have the empirical knowledge to answer what really would be safest here, but questions worth asking include:(1) How many kids in this age group are expected to (i) suffer serious ill-effects, or (ii) die from Covid during this "wait"?(2) Given our background knowledge of similar vaccines, including the results of clinical trials for this vaccine on adolescents, what proportion of kids would you expect to (i) suffer serious ill-effects, or (ii) die if administered a "best guess" fractional dose of this vaccine?It would be pretty extraordinary if the vaccine posed a greater risk of death than Covid.  But if it doesn't, that would surely go some way towards undermining the assumption that waiting is necessarily "safer": it increases your child's risk of death!  Perhaps the risk of non-lethal but still serious vaccine side-effects could be great enough to outweigh the (typically mild) risks from Covid for this age group?  Maybe... The comparative risk [More]

Why Constraints are Agent Neutral

My previous post argued that deontologists must prefer not to violate deontic constraints, or those constraints would lack normative significance. There is one last way that they might avoid my argument that constraints trivialize killing, namely, by holding that while the agent must prefer to abide by constraints, bystanders should prefer that the agent acts wrongly, killing one to save five.  This post will set out why I think that view is mistaken.By way of background: It's typically assumed that constraints must be agent-relative.  To explain why an agent should not kill one to prevent five other killings, deontologists often say things like, "Each agent has a special responsibility for their own actions -- that they not act wrongly, even to prevent more others from doing so." But in his groundbreaking paper, 'Agent-neutral deontology', Tom Dougherty pointed out that the injunction to not act wrongly, even to prevent more others from doing so can be given agent-neutral form, e.g.: "Each agent should [prefer and] ensure that no one kills to prevent more killings by others." (2013, 531)This agent-neutral conception of constraints seems much more intuitively appealing. It might be characterized as "patient-centered" rather than "agent-centered". As Setiya (2018, p. 97) put it, "when you should not cause harm to one in a way that will benefit others, you should not want others to do so either."  Whatever deontologists have [More]

Preferring to Act Wrongly

Deontologists hold that it's wrong to kill an innocent person, even to prevent five other such killings. Does it follow that they should prefer Five Killings over One Killing to Prevent Five?  If so, my previous argument kicks in to demonstrate that they care insufficiently about killing.  In this post, I want to argue that the alternative -- preferring to act wrongly -- results in an even worse theory.First, consider the objection that deontologists needn't take any stand on matters of preferability.  Perhaps they are just concerned to elucidate our obligations, and remain silent on all else.  But that doesn't help, because so long as there are further questions to be asked here (as there clearly are), their incomplete moral view must (if it is to have any hope of being correct) be coherently completable. That is, if certain verdicts about the deontic statuses of actions cannot be coherently combined with any plausible further claims about the relative preferability of various possible worlds, then those initial verdicts cannot all be true.  So we might as well move on to the question of what the most plausible completion of a deontological view would be: what verdicts about preferability fit best with the claim that it's wrong to kill one to prevent five killings.Okay. So, why not prefer One Killing to Prevent Five, while regarding it as impermissible to bring about? Here I think it's important to get clear on what kind of [More]

DeSantis Death Calculus

Harvard and Yale graduate Ron DeSantis has tripled down on assisting COVID ravage my adopted state of Florida. It is no wonder that liberals often see him as a villainous buffoon and a mini-Trump. This view does have some appeal. Floridians are being infected and dying at ever increasing rates at a time in which [More]

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