There are two ways to think of a human tragedy: as an injustice, or as a misfortune. A misfortune is usually associated with inescapable external forces of nature, and as such the desolation it leaves in its wake is blameless. An injustice, on the other hand, is caused by fellow humans; it is intentional, controllable, and therefore not blameless. Poverty is an injustice not a misfortune. COVID-19 has exposed the true character of our society: its remorseless injustice. No one is responsible for the existence of COVID-19, but collectively we are responsible for the fact that pandemic preparedness plans were grossly insufficient, and the response to the crisis inadequate. All the inequalities, biases, prejudices, and wrongs of modern society have been irrevocably exposed by COVID-19.
This chapter suggests that philosophy has a great deal to contribute to the debate on COVID-19. It explores different definitions of what philosophy is, arguing in favour of a philosophy that is action-guiding. Philosophy is praxis. The chapter also considers two main rival models of ethics: one based on rights, the other on duties. I suggest that the rights-based model is, in part, responsible for the anti-mask movement. Finally, the chapter suggests that duties should come first and not be subordinated to rights. A duty-based approach to ethics explains why, during this pandemic, everyone has a moral duty to take the necessary precautions to avoid getting sick.
French philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533–92) famously said that facing our mortality is the only way to properly learn the ‘art of living’. He was right. This book is about what we can learn from COVID-19 about the art of living, as individuals but also collectively as a society: this crisis could potentially change our lives for the better, ushering in a more just society. The book will explore a number of key themes through philosophical lenses. Chapter 2 asks whether coronavirus is a misfortune, or an injustice. Chapter 3 focuses on the largest cohort of victims of coronavirus: people in old age. Chapter 4 asks whether life under coronavirus is comparable to life in the so-called ‘state of nature’. Chapter 5 explores the likely impact of coronavirus on the global phenomenon of populism. Chapter 6 investigates the relationship between post-truth and coronavirus. Chapter 7 focuses on the role of experts during this crisis. Chapter 8 looks at the spike of incidents of domestic violence during the lockdown via an analysis of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Chapter 9 explores four key lessons that must be learned from the COVID-19 crisis: that politics matters; that central states are necessary; that taxation is important; and that radical reforms, including the introduction of a universal basic income, are crucial. Chapter 10 considers what philosophy can contribute to the debate on COVID-19, and why we have a moral duty not to become ill.
Before we had COVID-19 we had populism. Modern-day populism is founded on a specific but crude and somewhat distorted understanding of the social and political landscape, where only two political groupings exist: the perfidious elite, including experts and scholars, holders of the reins of political and economic power, and the excluded masses. An irreverent, nonconformist agenda explains populism’s attraction, especially right-wing populism. This chapter argues that the COVID-19 pandemic may have exposed the underlying weaknesses, incompetence, and long-term inadequacy of many populist leaders around the world.
This chapter gives some consideration to what social, political, and economic changes need to be made, domestically and globally, after this pandemic crisis is over. If everything post COVID-19 goes back to being essentially similar to life pre COVID-19, we will have wasted a unique opportunity to eradicate some of the worst underlying conditions of social injustice which inflict misery on billions of people across the globe. There are at least four main lessons we must learn from the COVID-19 crisis. First, the importance of politics. Second, the necessity of a well-funded state. Third, the imperative to raise taxes to give the state adequate resources. Fourth, the requirement to introduce new radical social and economic reforms.
The potentially devastating impact of COVID-19 on the world economy is beyond measure. The risk is that if the economy collapses it will also bring down civil society with it. Political philosophers have a term for this: we are being propelled towards the ‘state of nature’. This chapter suggests that extreme crises do not bring out the best in people. A negative, almost nightmarish account of the state of nature has a long tradition in the history of philosophy, and at the centre of it we find the widely maligned but often misunderstood seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. At the risk of defending a highly controversial figure, this chapter suggests that Hobbes still has a great deal to teach us about life under COVID-19.
Incidents of domestic violence skyrocketed during the weeks of lockdown. This phenomenon was universal. In Ireland reports of domestic violence increased by almost 25 per cent after the coronavirus lockdown period began. This chapter focuss on one cultural event that captured the imagination of millions of people during the lockdown, especially in the UK and Ireland: the televised adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. The impact of domestic violence on young lives is one of the main themes in Rooney’s book.
We live in an ageing society. The average age of death from COVID-19 is over 80. Care homes have taken the full force of this epidemiological tsunami. In Ireland 63 per cent of fatalities from COVID-19 related illnesses have occurred in nursing and care homes, not hospitals. It is now beyond doubt that in the way most countries prepared for the pandemic, nursing and care homes were not a priority, as reflected by the present mortality rates. Society’s relationship to people living in old age has never been under closer scrutiny; thus there has never been a better time to go back 2,000 years to the philosophical work of Marcus Tullius Cicero, On Old Age (44 BCE). This pandemic has fully exposed the lack of respect our efficiency-obsessed modern society has for people in old age.
Narratives of subjectivity alterations in recipients who have received human organs have persisted since the first human heart transplant was conducted in 1967. Reviewing this research in chapter 1 shows that despite anonymity existing between the organ donor family and the recipient, recipients report identity changes post-transplant mainly to do with age and gender, but also lifestyle choices. Several explanations have been offered to explain such a phenomenon and it is not the intention to refute or deny these claims. Rather it is to ask whether, in future, if other kinds of materials (from non-human animals or cybernetic technology) were used, what would the repercussions for human identity be. Because of the persistence of such stories, Chapter 1 questions the modern-day acceptance and reliance of a view of human beings that have an identity that is purely based upon cognitive thought and which is solely brain-centred. Such a view of embodiment – of how a person experiences the relationship they have with their body – is an ideology inherited from the 18th-century philosopher Descartes. Cartesian Dualism stresses ‘I think, therefore I am’ and medical procedures such as organ transplantation as being dependent on a split between a personal identity and body materiality. However, other philosophical positions, such as phenomenology based on the work of Merleau-Ponty, suggests that ‘I am, therefore I think’ and that embodiment is the co-existence of subjectivity and corporeality. Body modification through transplantation (or amputation) also creates a situation when the body, mostly ignored in daily life, becomes present or an ‘absent absence’ (Leder, 1990). Awareness of embodiment as ambiguous may be created as the precondition for separation of the body from the person implies that there was unity prior to reflection ‒ I have a body and I am a body. By centring this in terms of a body that has an inside and an outside in social and cultural terms leads to understanding why some organs are said to be ‘male’ or ‘female’.
If you had to choose between animal, mechanical and human materials to replace, repair or regenerate the human body, what would you choose? If people were made to make such a hypothetical choice, what would their choices reveal about the experience of being embodied? Given that these are socially and culturally meaningful materials, how do such beliefs interact with experiences of embodiment? In order to explore such questions, a small focus group study was undertaken followed by a large-scale representative survey making participants and respondents rank their most preferred options from a list: human 3-D bioprinted organs constructed from cells of the recipient; an organ from a known living organ donor; an organ from a deceased stranger, a mechanical device and finally an organ from a pig (a procedure known as xenotransplantation). Findings clearly show that all the human options are most preferred for various reasons; one of which was reducing the possible risk of subjectivity alteration that came with xenotransplantation. This was therefore also part of the reason as to why non-human animal transplantation was the least wanted option. Using Sanner’s (2001) theory of ‘contamination’ as an important reference helps understand how meanings attached to organic material are porous and transcend biological boundaries between bodies. Narratives about xenotransplantation and human organ donation therefore are able through contamination processes to modify the recipient’s body and alter subjectivity. Despite these narratives of alterations occurring on the inside of the body, this problematizes the individual’s body and her identity; changing what she is inside and altering who she is on the outside. At a point in-between these two extremes of human and non-human animal were mechanical implants, and being ‘for’ or ‘against’ mechanical implants appeared connected to fears about technology breaking and malfunctioning as well as concerns about having a ‘foreign’ device in the body.