Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Degree Level





Adler, Jacob

Committee Member/Reader

Minar, Edward

Committee Member/Second Reader

Evans, Timothy

Committee Member/Third Reader

Warren, Ron


The COVID-19 pandemic has been disastrous, approaching a million deaths in the United States alone, and has demonstrated the world’s lack of preparation for a severe airborne virus. Countermeasures to infection are important to implement in order to lessen loss of life, but also must be justified and shown to be ethical. A countermeasure which is especially viable is wearing masks because of their high efficacy in preventing disease transmission compared to their relatively low restriction of liberty; studies have shown that mask wearing effectively impairs the spread of airborne pathogens and creates little physical or social harm. I argue that mandates requiring masking in public spaces where social distancing is not possible during an airborne pandemic are reasonable and precedented. By mandate, I mean an enforceable statewide or federal requirement with a penalty of refusal of service or a fine, such as seat belt requirements or even environmental mandates like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. To do this, I will examine philosophical arguments in favor of masking requirements such as a defense of mandatory vaccination, the clean hands principle for collective action problems, and acceptable risk according to moral theories such as contractualism and utilitarianism. I also compare masking requirements to other similar public issues such as seat belt laws, taxation, secondhand smoke regulations, and the prohibition of public nudity in order to demonstrate that mandatory masking is not unacceptably coercive. In preparation for future strains of COVID-19 as well as for future pandemics, demonstrating that mandatory masking is ethically justifiable is more important now than it has ever been.


COVID-19, ethics, masks, airborne pathogens, mandates, state requirements, federal requirements