Public Health Ethics
The Communitarian Tradition
Bioethicists often stress the importance of individual freedoms rather than the general health and well-being of the community. There is, of course, an alternative philosophical tradition that sees individuals primarily as members of communities. This communitarian tradition views individuals as parts of social and political networks, with each individual reliant on the other for health and security. Individuals, according to this tradition, gain value from being a part of a wellregulated society that seeks to prevent risks that all members share. The three readings in this chapter introduce this important philososophical tradition.
The authors discuss several concepts that establish a moral basis for public health. Michael Walzer, an influential political philosopher at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, describes the meaning of social membership, arguing that government is formed principally to meet communal needs for health and security. Dan Beauchamp, one of the pioneers of public health ethics at the State University of New York at Albany, analyzes a classic conflict between the need for populationbased measures to improve the well-being of the entire community and American individualism, which, at times, seems to require only restraint from harming others. He builds on Walzer's ideas of political community, arguing that the health of populations has moral standing. In the third reading, Norman Daniels, a Tufts University philosopher who has championed the cause of social justice, and his colleagues use