Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Eye for an Eye

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” This statement, or something pretty close to it, is attributed to Gandhi. Most people solemnly nod and agree with this. But it seems to me this isn’t correct, at least as applied to the biblical principle.

The biblical principle is to limit retaliatory justice so as to not let things get out of hand. But more to the point, an eye for an eye, when taken biblically, does not result in the whole world going blind. It results in one eye for one eye. It would not necessitate the original offending party responding, and the second party again in kind, until everyone was blind. Justice is served in the eye-for-eye swap. It would be an act of injustice for the original offending party to again bring harm to the individual.

This is not to say that Jesus’ commentary on the issue is mistaken. Matthew 5:38-39 have Jesus discussing the great contrasts of the understanding of the day vs. the heart issues in the Sermon on the Mount. My only point for the day is sometimes conventional wisdom can arrive at similar points to Jesus but for bad reasons.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Vaccine Mandate and Moral Obligation

There is an argument that says that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is morally obligatory for all who can do so safely. This is because, amongst other things, already-stressed hospitals may become overtaxed, and people who need emergency care may not be able to receive it due to unvaccinated individuals taking up the available beds. 

One solution is to suggest, well, having more beds. Obviously, though, the beds are what they are—and even if there were more beds, healthcare workers are not in great supply right now (indeed, in normal times there are fewer than would be liked). 

The principle seems to be something like the following: if your action (or refusal to undertake an action) a results in hospitals being relevantly overtaxed, then a (or the refusal to undertake a) is prohibited; or, if a would successfully combat this situation, then a is obligatory. 

Set aside for now analogical, hypothetical counterexamples from other areas. I think we have an interesting scenario taking place now: the federal vaccine mandate. 

How so? Let us assume for the moment that everyone who supports a federal vaccine mandate also supports that getting vaccinated is morally obligatory, at least for the reason noted above. While most healthcare workers are already vaccinated, some are not—and some oppose mandates enough that they will quit or be fired over it if the time comes. This will result in a not insignificant reduction in the workforce in healthcare. Even if only 10% leave, that is decimating that worker population. Will hospitals be relevantly overtaxed if 10% of nurses quit or are fired? It seems so. What about 5%? Imagine 1 in 20 healthcare providers/workers left their jobs over the next three months. Healthcare would be worse, not better, for it. 

So then it violates the moral principle above, and as a result, a federal mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine should be morally prohibited, and hence opposed. 

Here’s one potential objection: the nurses and other healthcare workers ought to receive the vaccine, and in so refusing will themselves be violating the moral principle above. Therefore, they ought to receive the vaccine. 

Here’s my basic line of thought as a reply: first, in the moral principle, we’re not dealing with how we ought to respond to what people ought to do, we’re dealing with the response to what they have in fact done. In other words, it doesn’t matter why anyone is in the hospital (maybe the cut themselves in gross negligence, or were drunk driving, etc.): it only matters that they are in fact in the hospital. So it is here: it doesn’t matter why their leaving results in people being in the hospital (for evaluating whether vaccine mandates should take place): it only matters that they are in fact in the hospital

Second, two wrongs don’t make a right. On a strict, non-nuanced version of the principle articulated above, the healthcare workers may indeed be violating their moral obligations by not receiving the vaccine, and hence being removed from their jobs. But that won’t excuse those who pass a federal vaccine mandate from their violation. 

Finally, it is consistent to hold both that someone has a moral obligation to get the COVID-19 vaccine and that the government (and other actors) have a moral obligation to refrain from mandates. These are my main points: vaccine mandates are not as morally clear-cut as some would like; and given the stated logic, one cannot support both a vaccine mandate and the moral reasoning that is supposed to motivate it. 

Standard disclaimer: I got the vaccine, and I am not opposed to everyone else getting it.