Volume 50, No. 2 | The limits of the law

Frej Klem Thomsen | Vaccine skepticism, parental autonomy, and freedom of speech

This article sketches the public health problem of insufficient vaccine coverage caused by vaccine skepticism, and argues that liberal states are morally permitted to and should adopt legal restrictions to counter the problem. It first presents an argument for implementing a policy of requiring children to follow the regular vaccine program as a condition of entry to schools and childcare institutions, since this policy is likely to increase vaccine coverage and thereby prevent harm to children. It examines the two most obvious objections to this argument – that such a policy would be impermissibly paternalist, and that it would impermissibly interfere with the prerogative of parents – and finds them both wanting. Next, it presents an argument from equivalence to the effect that vaccine-skeptical misinformation should be exempt from freedom of speech, since it causes harm for reasons similar to conventionally prohibited forms of speech. It then examines five potential morally relevant differences between vaccine-skeptical misinformation and comparable forms of conventionally prohibited speech and argues that none of them constitutes a genuinely relevant difference. The article concludes that barring future plausible arguments to the contrary, both restrictions are permissible and desirable. 

Didde Boisen Andersen | The moral anatomy of self-harm

When a person cuts, burns or hits himself, we have a tendency to intuitively react with concern and an attitude that this kind of behavior should be stopped. But should it actually be stopped? For many people, self-harm is the least painful and most appropriate coping strategy to handle their situation, and it can therefore decrease their welfare if they are prevented from harming themselves. I argue that we should revise our intuitive reaction to this phenomenon, because the physical damage involved is not significant, and therefore this intuition does not seem justified. Although there seems to be something inherently wrong with harming yourself, this is not, all things considered, enough to substantiate intervention. It is important to underline that we should not neglect that the person who harms himself could be in need of help. However, the help should not consists of fighting the self-harming behavior but of focusing on the underlying problems behind the behavior. 

Søren Flinch Midtgaard and Andreas Albertsen | Organ donation and nudging

For many, receiving an organ transplantation is the only viable way to prolong their lives and increase their quality of life. However, the demand for organs exceeds supply. Are there efficient and ethically acceptable ways of increasing the number of organ donors? Recently, nudging has been proposed as an attractive policy instrument. Nudging eschews coercing people. It affects instead the choice architecture within which people make their choices. Still, autonomy concerns arise. Accordingly, we have to make a difficult trade-off between augmenting people’s welfare, on the one hand, and respecting their autonomy on the other. An opt-out system in which people count as donors unless they state otherwise is, however, likely to increase donations considerably, and to do so at acceptable costs in terms of infringements on autonomy.  

Jens Damgaard Thaysen | The limits of the law, the socioeconomic bias in turnout, and the justification of compulsory voting

Since nonvoting is concentrated among badly off electors, the introduction of compulsory voting will raise electoral turnout among badly off electors more than among well off electors. Therefore, compulsory voting increases the political influence of the worst off. This well-founded empirical claim is central to the two most prominent arguments in favor of compulsory voting. According to both arguments, compulsory voting is justified because of the good consequences of increasing the political influence of badly off electors. It is, however, not possible to justify compelling well off electors to vote on the grounds that it is desirable to raise turnout among badly off electors. Therefore, both arguments fail.  

Jørn Sønderholm | Should opinion polls be illegal?

The question of whether or not publication of opinion poll results should be illegal is of both theoretical and practical interest. A number of countries have laws in place that make the publication of opinion poll results illegal. The article concludes that there should be no legal restrictions on the publication of opinion poll results. The publication of such results should be legally permitted at any time during the electoral cycle. In the second section, a general line of thought centering on the moral nature of state coercion is presented in an attempt to show that the default position in the debate about the legality of the publication of opinion poll results ought be that the publication of such results should be legal. I argue i) that this general line of thought is convincing. There may, however, be at least one stronger argument in favor of the view that the publication of opinion poll results should be illegal. In the third section, I argue ii) that there is in fact no such argument. If i) and ii) are correct, then a very plausible case has been established for the conclusion of this article. 

Article outside the theme

Asbjørn Sonne Nørgaard, Lotte Bøgh Andersen and Stefan Boye | Who takes the lead in the standing committees in the Danish municipalities?

The significance of personality traits and committee positions for leadership behavior Politicians who serve in standing executive committees can exercise active leadership but are not compelled to do so. Active leadership may be related to politicians’ personality traits and the position they hold in the committee. We investigate these antecedents of politicians’ use of transformational and transactional leadership using a unique survey of Danish local councilors that includes validated measures of the Big Five personality traits and leadership behavior. We theorize and find that politicians’ personality traits, notably Extraversion and Conscientiousness, are associated with their self-reported leadership behavior. The position as committee chair is also associated with leadership behavior among local councilors but less so.  

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