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Get Philosophized: Clifford’s ship

Published Mar. 10, 2022


Co-editor-in-chief Emma Brown comments on philosophy and current events in The Sandpiper’s newest section.

In the age of misinformation, unfounded conspiracy theories seem to run rampant across the internet, spreading slanderous and dangerous claims, infecting those lying in wait for a morsel of fear to cling to. Recently, the spread of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine seems to be nearly as contagious as the virus itself, with blasphemous claims protected by the notion that everyone is entitled to their own belief. 

But you’re not. 

In 1896, philosopher William Clifford posed a hypothetical: A man owns a broken down boat and, despite its state of disrepair, sells tickets to take passengers across the sea, convinced that it will float. Yet when the people board the vessel, it sinks, killing all of its passengers. Clifford explains that because the man believed that the boat was safe without any evidence to support his claim, he is responsible for the deaths of the passengers, thus claiming that it is inherently unethical to believe in anything without sufficient evidence.

Following Clifford’s logic, those refusing the COVID-19 vaccination on the basis of unfounded conspiracies are acting unethically. In the era of the internet, information backed by science is available at all times, leaving no room for people to argue on the basis of ignorance. 

(courtesy of FREE SVG)

For example, some believe that vaccines can infect the recipient with the disease that it is trying to prevent, despite evidence to the contrary. The Center for Disease Control explains that the administration of a vaccine causes the immune system to create antibodies, proteins that identify and eliminate foreign contaminants in the body, imitating the infection and sometimes causing minor symptoms while the body learns how to defend itself against the virus. People who choose to believe the claim that vaccines cause COVID-19 despite a lack of evidence to support their statement are acting unethically. 

Willful ignorance, like that of the ship’s captain, is just as dangerous as malicious intent. While those who choose not to receive the vaccine do not do so with the intent to harm others, their decisions have consequences for those who have chosen to act ethically and those who are too young to make medical decisions for themselves. Unvaccinated people are three to five times more likely to contract the omicron variant, according to the American Hospital Association. Those infected with the variant typically spread the virus to 10 people, creating an infection ripple effect. 

Though vaccinations have become a highly politicized topic, the decision of whether to receive the vaccine must be based upon reliable medical research, not formed from overused rhetoric and baseless claims. 

When making a medical decision that impacts a population larger than just the individual, consider an ethically sound, rational approach to the issue, and value evidence and logic above all else.


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