Dialogue: Debating the ethics of requiring vaccinations at university


Professor Dr Michael Lissack

Immediate Past President, American Society for Cybernetics | Tongji University, College of Design and Innovation

Professor Dr Hugo Letiche

Institut Mines: TBS Paris | Nyenrode Business University

COVID-19 has raised a host of political, logistical, and ethical dilemmas regarding the conflict between “social responsibility” (often embodied in demands for vaccinations, masks, social distancing, and even lockdowns) and “individual rights” (conversely embodied as “you have no right to tell me what to do, I will decide for myself”). These conflicts are manifest on university campuses. While schools attempted to surmount the Covid crises of the past year through a combination of tactics — remote teaching, mask mandates, frequent viral testing, outdoor tents, quarantine and isolation, and even plastic barriers in lecture halls – most universities are opting to run their 2021-22 school years in person. To do so, many – but not all schools/universities are requiring students, faculty, and staff to be vaccinated.

Buberian Dialogue

This Buberian Dialogue will explore the ethics of such a requirement and, in doing so, explore the tensions between self and group, proven precautions and virtue signalling, science and pseudo-science, and the conflicting natures of “identity” and “duty.”

In the midst of crisis or change, there is a clash of narrations. The dynamic of the situation is that rival stories are being told. Any story, any form of rhetorical communication, not only says something about the world but also implies that there is an audience of persons who conceive of themselves in very specific ways. If a story denies a person’s self-conception, it may not matter what it says about the world. In situations of protest, rival factions have stories that deny each other respect in regard to their self-conceptions. The only way to bridge this gap, if it can be bridged at all through discourse, is by the telling of stories that do not negate the self-conceptions people hold of themselves. Martin Buber referred to this as treating the other as “Thou” rather than as “it.” I-Thou relations are built on respect; I-it relations are built on power and self-absorption. By definition, the two conceptions conflict. Change is unlikely to occur when I-It prevails. Attempts to promote “dialogue” have traditionally been conducted on one of two paths – (i) in the line promoted by the Nobel prize-winning physicist David Bohm – dialogue participants must attempt to put aside their partisan differences and enter into a “cooperative space” open to the generation of new ideas or (ii) in the line promoted by “political realists” the goal is compromise and partial victories. Both of these evoke I-It relations, and neither approach has been very successful. Our proposed format is that of the I-Thou Buberian Dialogue, where the emphasis is NOT on the protagonists, but rather it is on the audience members. Buberian Dialogue empowers the audience to discover and amplify hidden commonalities amongst differing perspectives and positions. This happens through an audience-centred examination of presuppositions and entailments raised by the protagonists.

The rules for this Buberian Dialogue
  1. Participants: two discussants, a moderator, and an audience.
  2. The discussants each say their initial piece. (The moderator must keep the second speaker from addressing the first).
  3. It is the role of the audience to listen for what the two discussants have said or implied, which might be in common. The audience is called upon to inform the discussants of these commonalities (which the moderator captures on a whiteboard). (The moderator must keep audience members from soliloquy and from addressing the discussants).
  4. The discussants are then to discuss the items on the whiteboards.
  5. Repeat for two or more rounds. 6) There is no effort to reach a consensus or conclusion.

At RSD10 we will have a participating audience of 25-30 with an observing audience unrestricted as to size. Lissack and Letiche are the discussants and will appoint a moderator from RSD10 on-campus attendees.

For more information about running a Buberian dialogue


Posted Sep-2021


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Author(s) (20XX). Article title. In Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSDX) 20XX Symposium. City, Country, Month X-X, 20XX.

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