Justifying Lockdown

Christian Barry and Seth Lazar in Ethics and International Affairs:

Throughout most of the world, significant restrictions have been placed on freedoms to move about, to associate in public, and to be in many public spaces. These practices are often collectively referred to as “lockdown.” Few of us enjoy lockdown, and a small minority is furiously protesting against it. In the United States, which currently has many more COVID-19 infections than any other country in the world, some protestors have been gathering to call for these lockdowns to end, and for a return to work.1 And in most places governments are indeed beginning to relax, to varying degrees, the very substantial restrictions that lockdown has involved.

For many, a first reaction to the protests was shock at how reckless they seemed, given the continued prevalence of the virus there.2 There are clear and legitimate concerns about whether the relaxation of lockdown restrictions is premature in the Unites States and many other parts of the world. But the question such protestors and others are raising—how the often very significant costs that are being coercively imposed upon populations can be justified—is a sensible one that deserves a reasoned response. Without such a response, we will not be able to think clearly about the conditions under which relaxing these restrictions is justified, or about when, should things take a turn for the worse, they should be reinstated. Our aim in this brief essay is not to defend a particular policy or attitude toward lockdown measures in the United States or elsewhere, but to consider the scope and limits of different types of arguments that can be offered for them.

More here.