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Philosophy and Covid

(I was asked to write something brief on this so here it is...)


What has philosophy got to do with Covid? Here are some obvious answers.


Philosophy involves taking a step back and questioning what we ordinarily take for granted. This can be a disturbing experience.


In our day-to-day lives we live in a small bubble of concerns - whether or not to see friends, what to have for dinner, whether to buy a new car, where to go on holiday this year. Philosophy encourages us to massively expand the range of questions we are asking. We may find ourselves considering why there is anything at all, perhaps. Or whether what we take to be reality might be an illusion. Or whether robots could think and feel. Or whether there's life beyond death. Or what makes things morally right or wrong.


As Wittgenstein points out, pressing philosophical questions can cause a sense of intellectual vertigo. I thought I knew had an immaterial soul (or that I am an entirely material being). I assumed that I could justify my moral beliefs. I supposed I knew there was an external world of trees and mountain, planets and houses, and also that there are minds other than my own. But then I read a little philosophy and suddenly these beliefs may be thrown into serious doubt.  What I took to be the firm ground beneath my feet - the foundations of my world view - can suddenly vanish leaving me suspended over a terrifying void.


Large scale threatening and destabilising events - such as financial crashes, pandemics, and huge natural disasters - can have a similar effect on us. They too can starkly confront us with life's bigger questions - about life and death, the meaning and purpose of our lives, our duties to others, and whether we are good or bad people. As a result of Covid, many of us who would have been focused on a pretty narrow envelope of quite trivial concerns may suddenly find ourselves staring up at the ceiling in the middle of the night fretting about these bigger questions.


Of course, religion has traditionally stepped in to provide answers to such questions. Religions tell us what's morally right and wrong, how to lead meaningful lives, what we essentially are, what our purpose is. Religion gives us a clearly defined place the grand scheme of things. But Westerners are increasingly finding the answers offered by mainstream religion to be implausible, and sometimes even immoral. So where else might we turn for answers?


The answer, of course, is philosophy. However, unlike religion, philosophy doesn't just tell you the answers. Rather, it gives you a tool kit so that you are better placed to figure out the answers for yourself.


The philosophical toolkit involves applying reason calmly and dispassionately and as far as we are able, of course. It also encourages good habits of mind - including not just believing what it would be most convenient or reassuring to believe, but trying to figure out what's true. Philosophy also provides us with a vast resource in terms of ideas and suggestions when it comes to finding answers. There are philosophers who have some pretty interesting advice to offer when it comes to dealing with worry, stress, and disasters like Covid, for example (the Stoics, most obviously).


So, why not try a little philosophy during lockdown?


(PS, perhaps, ahem, this?...)


psbraterman said…
"Dispassionate"? You do not do yourself or your profession justice! I understand why you use the word, but since philosophical questions should be pursued with passionate engagement, we really need a different one. "Without prejudice"?
bats_man said…
Mr Law
This is a very important discussion about life contradictions knowledge. To bring Philosophy as a thinking device is more important than any kind ideology at this moment (like religion as you wrote). So, in my opinion, more than answers, Philosophy invites us to ask the right questions about our fragile human nature.

Thanks to you for defending and try to show people how important is to think beyond the obvious.


Marcelo Pasqualin Bastchauer

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