Philosophy and the Pandemic
This course will both introduce students to philosophy, and help them to think through the present crisis by identifying some of the philosophical issues implicit in the challenges we face today.
The pandemic we are living through confronts each of us with difficult questions:
- In a time when so much is unknown, so much is on the line, how can I tell what’s true and determine how best to act—especially when experts disagree?
- How should I behave in a time when going about my daily life can help a deadly disease to spread? How much should I be willing to give up to save lives, and are there sacrifices that I am obligated to make?
- What governmental policies are needed to stem the outbreak, treat the sick, or cushion the economic blow, and can such policies be reconciled with the commitments to freedom and individualism on which the American form of government is predicated?
Answering such questions requires input from many disciplines, but there is one discipline that is implicated by all of the questions listed above and that can help us to integrate the information from all of the other fields that are involved. That discipline is philosophy; it is the field in which we articulate and reflect on our fundamental standards for knowledge and for action.
This course will both introduce students to philosophy, and help them to think through the present crisis by identifying some of the philosophical issues implicit in the challenges we face today. It will consist of three units:
- The first will focus on epistemological questions related to how lay people can assess expert opinions.
- The second will focus on the ethical questions pertaining to the personal decisions we each have to make due to the crisis.
- The third will focus on issues of political philosophy related to evaluating governments’ response to the pandemic.