Perfectionism in Public Health

Workshop at the Centre for Advanced Study in Bioethics
Poster Perfectionism

The ban on smoking in restaurants is widely accepted. But how much should the state intervene in individual liberties for the purpose of public health care? A workshop on 21-22 March 2016 will deal with objectives and limits of "public health". 

The workshop will take place in room GE 1.32 at the Centre for Advanced Study in Bioethics (Kolleg-Forschergruppe „Theoretische Grundfragen der Normenbegründung in Medizinethik und Biopolitik“). Participation is free of charge, but registration is required due to the limited capacity. Please send your registration inquiry to by 17 March 2016 latest.


"Perfectionism in Public Health"

How can public health policies be justified and what does this tell us about the justification of government policies more generally? Health equity is becoming a political goal alongside more traditional health measures such as average life expectancy. This means that broader distributive concerns are related to public health not only empirically, via the social determinants of health, but also conceptually and normatively. Justice typically involves not only equality, but also some notion of individual responsibility. The ensuing complexities in identifying the goal of public health confound the already substantial challenges in defining health.

Unlike some other distribuenda, health cannot be redistributed, but only affected indirectly, by changing either behavior or background circumstances. Such circumstances include health care provision but also social norms and living and working environments. This means that health equity is, by empirical necessity, intimately connected to other values, including individual liberty and autonomy.

The fact that threats to public health are increasingly related to life-style has reinvigorated debate on government paternalism. Some point to the need to regulate life-style choices, others to innovative ways to affect such choices while respecting liberal constraints. This issue of proper means, however, does not address the more fundamental issue of proper goals.

With this workshop, we invite further and broader debate on the proper goals of public health work and policy. Might more general perspectives on the proper goals of a liberal government inform the more specific issue of public health? Might investigation of the concept of a healthy public inform general questions around government perfectionism?



Monday, 21 March 2016
9:15 – 9:30 Introduction
Dominik Düber (Münster) & Kalle Grill (Umeå)
9:30 – 10:45 State Neutrality & Public Health:
Impossible and Undesirable
Angus Dawson (Sydney)
11:15 – 12:30 Health Makes Perfect? Perfectionist Aspects of the Conceptualization of Health in Public Health
Thomas Schramme (Hamburg)
Commented by: John Coggon (Southampton)
14:00 – 15:15 The Relationship between Rights and Perfectionism: the Special Case of the Right to Health
Alexandra Couto (Oslo/Oxford)
15:45 – 17:00 Perfectionism, the Bare Objective List, and Public Health Policy
Richard Arneson (San Diego)
Commented by:
 Bettina Schöne-Seifert (Münster)
Tuesday, 22 March 2016
9:30 – 10:45 Equality and Public Health
Kristin Voigt (Montreal/Oxford)
11:15 – 12:30 Self-Sovereignity, Paternalism, and Perfectionism
Peter de Marneffe (Phoenix)
Commented by: Simon Robert Clarke (Yerevan)
14:00 – 15:15 From Preferences to Perfectionism
Kalle Grill (Umeå)
15:45 – 17:00 Perfectionism and the Human Right to Health
James Wilson (London)