Lockdown measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic involve placing huge burdens on some members of society for the sake of benefiting other members of society . How should we decide when these policies are permissible? Many writers propose we should address this question using cost-benefit analysis (CBA), a broadly consequentialist approach . We argue for an alternative non-consequentialist approach, grounded in contractualist moral theorising . The first section sets up key issues in the ethics of lockdown, and sketches the apparent appeal of addressing these problems in a CBA frame . The second section argues that CBA fundamentally distorts the normative landscape in two ways: first, in principle, it allows very many morally trivial preferences-say, for a coffee-might outweigh morally weighty life-and-death concerns; second, it is insensitive to the core moral distinction between victims and vectors of disease . The third section sketches our non-consequentialist alternative, grounded in Thomas Scanlon's contractualist moral theory . On this account, the ethics of self-defence implies a strong default presumption in favour of a highly restrictive, universal lockdown policy: we then ask whether there are alternatives to such a policy which are justifiable to all affected parties, paying particular attention to the complaints of those most burdened by policy . In the fourth section, we defend our contractualist approach against the charge that it is impractical or counterintuitive, noting that actual CBAs face similar, or worse, challenges.
Index: COVID-19, distributive justice, philosophical ethics, political philosophy, public health ethics