The Primacy of Duty and Its Efficacy in Combating COVID-19

Public Health Ethics 13 (2):179-189 (2020)
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Nyansa nye sika na w'akyekyere asie. One critical factor that has contributed to the spread of the virus COVID-19 and resulting illnesses and deaths is both the conceptual and the ethical confusion between the prioritization of individual rights over social duties. The adherence to the belief in the priority of rights over duties has motivated some individuals to refrain from social distancing and, as a result, has placed themselves and other individuals at serious risk to health and life. My argument is that the ethical enjoinder of social duty possesses priority over the ethical value of individual rights especially in times of global crisis. I demonstrate this point by arguing that the concept of individual right is derivative from the concept of social duty and through the argument that the concept of social duty is more efficacious in addressing global threats to human life than is the concept of individual rights. What is needed is an in-depth revision of the moral ordering of rights and duties and a vision of the human being as inherently other directed with duties toward others. I shall examine two specific ethical systems, that of Confucian and African, Akan moral philosophy that exemplify such a revision of the moral order.

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Robert E. Allinson
Soka University


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