Moralization and Mismoralization in Public Health

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 25 (4):655-669 (2022)
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Moralization is a social-psychological process through which morally neutral issues take on moral significance. Often linked to health and disease, moralization may sometimes lead to good outcomes; yet moralization is often detrimental to individuals and to society as a whole. It is therefore important to be able to identify when moralization is inappropriate. In this paper, we offer a systematic normative approach to the evaluation of moralization. We introduce and develop the concept of ‘mismoralization’, which is when moralization is metaethically unjustified. In order to identify mismoralization, we argue that one must engage in metaethical analysis of moralization processes while paying close attention to the relevant facts. We briefly discuss one historical example and two contemporary cases related to COVID-19 that we contend to have been mismoralized in public health. We propose a remedy of de-moralization that begins by identifying mismoralization and that proceeds by neutralizing inapt moral content. De-moralization calls for epistemic and moral humility. It should lead us to pull away from our tendency to moralize—as individuals and as social groups—whenever and wherever moralization is unjustified.

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