Honors Program

Honors in Philosophy

Date of Award


Thesis Professor(s)

Michael P. Allen

Thesis Professor Department

Philosophy and Humanities

Thesis Reader(s)

Randy Wykoff


The severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the high-profile nature of the public health response make it a natural context for exploring the current state of public health ethics. This paper explores this topic from two perspectives: justification and compliance. Libertarianism and utilitarianism are two frameworks that dominate the question of how public health interventions are justified. Consequently, this paper analyzes the events of the pandemic to determine how these frameworks fared in terms of offering reliable means of justifying the interventions needed to curb the spread of COVID-19. Consideration of these events suggests that a framework centered around actionable scientific health research may be able to offer a more reliable means of justifying interventions than traditional libertarian and utilitarian approaches. From the standpoint of compliance, I analyze data on the pandemic-related behaviors of Americans as well as their motivations. This analysis found that factors such as commitment to exercising freedom, distrust of public health institutions, and pursuit of higher priorities were the predominant motivations behind noncompliance. Furthermore, reflection on these realities indicates that they constitute a formidable obstacle to public health efforts. Given the swift action that public health crises such as pandemics demand, overcoming these obstacles in a timely manner such that free compliance is acquired is unlikely. As a result, it seems that the only option available to public health officials to effectively reduce the deadly consequences of another COVID-like pandemic is mandated enforcement of public health interventions.


East Tennessee State University

Document Type

Honors Thesis - Open Access

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


Copyright by the authors.