COVID-19: Can philosophy help us in this time of crisis?

Non-fiction Apr 16, 2020

Every prophet of doom, unless he also happens to be a psychopath, hopes that
his predictions will not be borne out. This is also true for the epidemiologists
and virologists who have been warning the world since January that the novel
SARS-CoV-2 virus poses a severe threat to public health around the world. The
name Coronavirus itself, is vicious enough to terrify those who otherwise are
fearless in the face of any ball game. Tracing back the origins of the now
pandemic, we find that the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, a city of 11 million
people in China's Hubei province, in late 2019. Cases of the disease grew by
several thousand per day in China in late January and early February, the peak
of the epidemic there. The number of infections appearing each day has since
plummeted in and around the world, making the outbreak a global pandemic
that has engulfed over 214 countries around the globe.

But what has philosophy to do in such perilous times, ever wondered? Consider
the philosophy of Stoicism which articulates the facts- “Cease worrying about
things which are beyond the power of our will,” and “God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and
wisdom to know the difference.”

The coronavirus pandemic throws up fundamental political, ethical and
existential questions.  It’s a test of where all humans stand. What is right and
what is wrong? What can individuals expect from society, and what can society
expect of them? Should others make sacrifices for me, and vice versa? Is it just
to set economic limits to fighting a deadly disease?

“Doctors of philosophy cannot offer cures.” Philosophy works best in a
reciprocal relationship with evidence and the real world – the latter, often
embarrassed to be seen without scare quotes. A shot of philosophy, might offer
immunity from rash political, healthcare, and personal decisions. To that extent
philosophy can make a real difference. The most important lesson philosophy
can teach us in this time of crisis is “Each and every individual has a moral
responsibility to do what’s right, notwithstanding what our government tells us,
or fails to tell us.”

Socrates found that his philosophical way of life gave him courage. Philosophy
is not a body of knowledge, but a mindset, a questioning. It is a love of wisdom,
a way of linking reason with values and emotions, with the goal of living and dying well. The discipline of philosophy thus raises a vast multitude of questions with seemingly variable answers. It’s up to us, as humans, to reckon the correct pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that is philosophy.

At last I would like to conclude with a rather charming quote- “The tools of
reflection and self-awareness are supportive when everything around is

-Adamya Patel

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