Readings for Students on Philosophy & the Pandemic


As philosophy professors make adjustments to how we are teaching in response to the pandemic, are we also adjusting what we’re teaching this term?

[detail of sculpture by Chris Donia]

Many schools lost at least a week’s worth of classes, and so many courses will have had material cut from them.

But are philosophers adding units to their courses on the pandemic? Aspects of it are relevant to a wide array of philosophical areas, and I’d bet students would be especially interested in seeing that.

One philosophy professor asks, “Could you request that your readers share articles they’re using when teaching about COVID-19?”

This is a good idea. If you are (or are considering) teaching about any element of the pandemic and reactions to it in your philosophy course, please let us know what the course is, what articles, chapters, videos, websites, or other materials you are thinking of assigning your students, and, if you don’t mind, a line that explains your selection(s).

Thank you!

Related: “A Rare Learning Opportunity

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Douglas Fishel
Douglas Fishel
1 year ago

I found this in the blog “What’s Wrong”
https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsb2005114?query=featured_home&fbclid=IwAR3Ldp97BUab2sfWqMdSJ9tV64ZpXEbY5Qmpnk0MuGalreYswcmH7lHzo20

Doug Fishel

Philosophy Instructor

MCC-Maple Woods

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Daniel Groll
Daniel Groll
1 year ago

Here’s what I’ll be using next term. I think some of them were suggested in the comments of an earlier post.

“The Extraordinary Decisions Facing Italian Doctors”, The Atlantic
“The Hardest Question Doctors May Face”, New York Times
Marcel Verweij, “Moral Principles for Allocating Scarce Medical Resources in an Influenza Pandemic”
Heidi Malm, Thomas May, Leslie P. Francis, Saad B. Omer, Daniel A. Salmon, Robert Hood, “Ethics, Pandemics and the Duty to Treat”
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Heidi
Heidi
Reply to  Daniel Groll
1 year ago

Nice to hear! (I assumed the article would be too long for assignment to undergraduates..). -Malm
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Timothy Shanahan
1 year ago

Those are fine suggestions. I’d be interested in any ideas folks have for materials discussing philosophical issues other than ETHICAL quandaries related to pandemics (or to this pandemic). Thanks. Report

Clarence
Clarence
Reply to  Timothy Shanahan
1 year ago

I don’t have any readings in mind, but the following occurred to me.

Maybe some stuff on risk? The Stanford Encyclopedia article covers ethics but also epistemology, phil sci, phil of tech, decision theory.

I saw something in the Guardian that said, roughly, that it’s difficult to kill coronavirus because it isn’t alive. So what is life?

May be a way to talk about Mill’s methods or inference to the best explanation or similar.

Interpretations of probability?

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Don Fallis
Don Fallis
Reply to  Timothy Shanahan
1 year ago

Two of the courses that I am teaching this semester have a large epistemological component:

PHIL / IS 1300 – Knowledge in a Digital World

PHIL 2016 – The Philosophy of Lying and Deception

Since my courses went online last week, I have been writing a series of posts to draw connections between the pandemic and the topics in these courses:

http://www.u.arizona.edu/~fallis/epist_coronavirus.htmlReport

Matt LaVine
Matt LaVine
1 year ago

Given that it got so much attention (tens of millions of views), I had my students look at Tomas Pueyo’s “Coronoavirus: Why You Must Act Now” https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-act-today-or-people-will-die-f4d3d9cd99ca . Then, I used this as an opportunity give a pitch for a broad-based liberal arts education by looking at how knowing some basic mathematics, philosophy, and epidemiology would help one understand the article and its importance better. I did this in a five-set series of videos that are up on a new youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqcnrcWl6LGFyrtC4KNp5vg . If you’re interested in philosophical aspects of COVID-19, I discuss REALLY basic issues in epistemology in the 3/19/20 video (this is for an introductory class I teach on the Arts & Sciences for students who haven’t yet declared a major).Report

Jeff Hanlon
Jeff Hanlon
1 year ago

I created a section for the ‘Philosophy of COVID 19’ on my high school philosophy course website. Here are three articles I have included thus far. The first two are by Canadian newspaper columnists, and, as such, are not works of philosophy but the authors are certainly making arguments.
‘Coronavirus and the moral compass of America’ by Keith Boag – https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/keith-boag-coronavirus-moral-character-1.5505963
‘Outbreaks are not an excuse to trample human rights’ by Marni Soupcoff – https://nationalpost.com/opinion/marni-soupcoff-outbreaks-are-not-an-excuse-to-trample-on-our-rights
‘What’s the Worst That Could Happen’ by Simon Coglan – https://philosophynow.org/issues/102/Whats_The_Worst_That_Could_HappenReport

Andrew Sepielli
Andrew Sepielli
Reply to  Jeff Hanlon
1 year ago

From the Soupcoff piece: “As we are seeing this week, democratic countries are also ready to compromise individual rights to arrest the coronavirus outbreak, sometimes in surprisingly heavy-handed ways, with Italy banning mass gatherings and prohibiting people from leaving their home regions, not to mention putting the whole country under quarantine, and the United States abruptly limiting travel from much of Europe for 30 days…”

I’d say that didn’t age well, but that might imply that it expressed a reasonable moral sensibility when it was written.

For more I-don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry from the same author, check this out: https://twitter.com/soupcoff/status/1242231992349048832Report

Bill Vanderburgh
Bill Vanderburgh
1 year ago

For my Philosophy of Science class I was planning to use Semmelweiss as a lead-in to some history of germ theory, basic virology and public health science, and then WaPo conveniently published this: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/03/23/ignaz-semmelweis-handwashing-coronavirus/Report

Patrick Lin
1 year ago

Short article about data ethics:

“Always keep in mind that Data Science is the intersection of mathematics, information technology AND DOMAIN. So, if you do not have a specific domain expertise, please let it go, do not run analysis on topics like these, that are inherently extremely complex.”

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/data-scientist-ethics-covid-19-luigi-roggia/

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Sara Ghaffari
Sara Ghaffari
1 year ago

I had already assigned “Radical Hope” (Jonathan Lear), but now it seems it will have a much greater impact.Report

Robert Gressis
Robert Gressis
1 year ago

I’m thinking about assigning C. S. Lewis, “Learning During Wartime” — kind of a “what’s the value of philosophy in a time like this?” piece. Report

Dr. P. Milan Khangamcha
1 year ago

Pandemic no doubt is related to public policies and its larger political economic backdrop of conflict between two powers of the world. Philosophy can only go to their fundamental ideological assumptions. I am afraid to tell that we may have to interrogate the history modern civilisation and its drives for political economic wars which colonial history itself will be implicated. One can’t merely looked at from the angles of bio-ethics, medical ethics etc as they will have no meaning without the said larger backdrop. This has been what philosophers & the social scientists have not been doing. They have taken as if all about the modern world is alright when it’s activities have already caused climate change. Politics of climate change and the climate change deniers have confused the masses. The phenomenon of pandemics needs to be deconstructed right down to its ontological foundations which lies in the stiff competitions for global power with the US as the super power.Report

Jeff Hanlon
Jeff Hanlon
1 year ago

I posted a few links yesterday. Normally, I would let that stand as my contribution (to a thread that I very much appreciate!), but I have to post this article by Yascha Mounk, ‘Four Theories Why People Are Still Out Partying’:
https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/moral-instincts-coronavirus/608305/
It is concise, links directly to utilitarianism and offers an astute thesis. Report

Patrick Lin
1 year ago

Reposting a related CFP from colleagues putting together this special issue:

————————————————–

The JOURNAL OF LAW AND THE BIOSCIENCES is soliciting essays, commentaries, or short articles for a special issue on “Law and Ethics in the Time of a Global Pandemic.” For this issue we especially encourage shorter pieces, of roughly 1500 to 5000 words. If any particular aspect of how this pandemic will affect some part of the law—from lease terms to courtroom procedures to constitutional questions about mandatory testing—intrigues you, write it up and send it in.

We will publish only peer reviewed submissions but we will work hard to encourage very fast reviews (an area where shorter papers will have an advantage). We believe that once the papers are accepted after peer review, we can move them through the publication process to posting in two weeks.

JLB is an open-access, peer reviewed journal, owned jointly by Duke, Harvard, and Stanford and published for them by Oxford University Press. Its co-editors-in-chief are Glenn Cohen from Harvard, Nita Farahany from Duke, and Hank Greely from Stanford. We are an on-line only journal and post pieces as soon as they are ready, without waiting for completion of an issue. Our impact factor is 2.431. For more information about the Journal, as well as instruction for authors, see https://academic.oup.com/jlb

If you have any questions, please feel free to email our managing editor, Meredith Van Natta, at [email protected], or contact one of the three co-editors-in-chief directly.

Nita Farahany
Glenn Cohen
Hank Greely
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Vincent Guillin
Vincent Guillin
1 year ago

A great classic is Thucydides’ depiction of the Plague of Athens, in The History of the Peloponnesian War, Book II, Chap. II; and its philosophical rewriting in Lucretius’ De Natura Rerum, Book VI, v. 1090-1286. See D. N. Sedley, Lucretius and the Transformation of Greek Wisdom, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, for an overview of Lucretius’ philosophy and the quaestio vexata of the function of the “plague” passage in his epicurean poem. It was the first topic of a graduate seminar on Catastrophe I gave last fall.; the syllabus (in French) is available at the following url: https://philo.uqam.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/72/2019/08/phi9018_vincent_guillinV2.pdfReport

Robert Chapman
Robert Chapman
1 year ago

Julian Savulescu has a relevant article in the guardian that hasn’t been mentioned yet https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/25/search-coronavirus-cure-vaccine-pandemic?CMP=fb_cif

Also this issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences focuses on the nature of viruses https://www.sciencedirect.com/journal/studies-in-history-and-philosophy-of-science-part-c-studies-in-history-and-philosophy-of-biological-and-biomedical-sciences/vol/59/suppl/CReport

Anne Jeffrey
Anne Jeffrey
1 year ago

This is really helpful; thanks to all who have posted! I am teaching bioethics and have created an optional assignment (which almost every student has opted into pretty enthusiastically) outlined here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ajmb9cNdS9A77SnZubRVJLVwlTwAq0yy/view?usp=sharing

Here are some other readings I’ve shared with them:

Adam Pelser, “Ethics in a Pandemic Age: Beyond rules, rights, and responsibilities to grace, generosity, and -gratitude.”
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ethicseveryone/202003/ethics-in-pandemic-age

Berlinger et al, “Ethical Framework for Health Care Institutions & Guidelines for Institutional Ethics Services Responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic”
https://www.thehastingscenter.org/ethicalframeworkcovid19/

Persad et al, “Principles for Allocation of Scarce Medical Interventions”
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19186274

The discussion of limited epistocracy in these sorts of global crises in an article of mine and literature cited therein could also be helpful in a political philosophy or philosophy of law class:
https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/episteme/article/limited-epistocracy-and-political-inclusion/CFB93E68F784E053EC5822EF3158375D

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david rosner
david rosner
1 year ago

Shameless self-promotion perhaps, but I hope my recently published edited collection on Catastrophe and Philosophy might prove instructive:

https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781498540117/Catastrophe-and-PhilosophyReport