Section I


1. Rationality and the Moral Psychology of the Pandemic Agent.

Anneli Jefferson & Lisa Bortolotti

Extreme events such as pandemics bring out the best and the worst in people. There have been outpourings of help as well as mad scrambles to secure the last roll of toilet paper for oneself. However, one particular challenge the Covid 19 pandemic has posed both to individual agents and to political decision makers is that of decision making under uncertainty. Governments have had to decide whether and when to lock down, and individual agents have had to decide what risks are acceptable to take. We have in this context seen a significant amount of unusual risk-taking behaviour which was subsequently justified as being acceptable under the circumstances. There are a number of facets of human psychology which make it particularly difficult for agents to make morally good decisions in situations of uncertainty. First of all, there is the optimism bias, which means that people underestimate risks to themselves. Arguably, this sense of personal invulnerability has knock-on effects on the risks people impose on others. If we think we are unlikely to get infected, we will also think that we are unlikely to infect others. Moreover, given high levels of uncertainty about the possible effects of behaviour, people are not well placed to make consequence-based calculations regarding acceptable risk even if they do not exhibit an optimism bias. A further contributing factor to problems with risk assessment and moral decision making is that the risks of certain behaviours in the context of a pandemic are abstract for many and the consequences of ignoring safety recommendations are time delayed. Human agents are not very good at processing statistical information and seeing it as relevant for themselves (as shown in the identifiable victim effect), but are often swayed and influenced by personal stories. Stories make the consequences of getting infected with Covid vivid to them in a way that growing numbers of deaths on a graph cannot. This means that the perception of risk diverges depending on what personal stories agents are confronted with. A result of these biases and psychological quirks is that agents have not been able to rely on their own abilities to do a risk benefit analysis of the pandemic situation in the same way as they can in more ordinary circumstances. This suggests that reliance on rule-based norms is the best way forward in cases of uncertainty. If people cannot gauge the riskiness of their own behaviour, then they should follow rules that work if observed more generally. One problem with this is that the more general rules are often laid down by national governments. The willingness to follow rules laid down by others will depend on people’s level of trust in the competence of the government to come up with a sensible set of rules.

2. From Fear to Anger: An Exploratory Analysis of Populist Rhetoric in the Context of COVID-19.

Matheus Mesquita Silveira

The presence of emotions with negative valence has been linked as a relevant factor in the emergence of populist movements. This article aims to examine how fear and anger affect individuals’ adherence to populism in the context of COVID-19. Fear is an aspect of social life and has been characterized as a transient emotional state with genetically informed traits. In this sense, this emotion is relevant in the development of individuals’ psychobiological systems. On the other hand, anger is a social emotion directly associated with aggressive behavior towards others and is triggered by biological or cultural factors. Based on studies in the political, psychological, and biological sciences, the article argues that fear and anger are central to the populist advance amid COVID-19. It is proposed in this article that both emotions have relevant implications for adherence to populism, particularly concerning policies aimed at external groups. The argument is that COVID-19 constantly reinforces the social state of anxiety, triggering a second pandemic associated with chronic fear. The behaviors related to these emotional states play a central role in the pandemic social context, defined as an individual or collective attitude initiated in response to reactions triggered by a real or imaginary threat to a potentially traumatic event. As a result, the chronic fear inherent in the social context of COVID-19 makes it possible for the Manichean rhetoric characteristic of populism to manipulate it for political purposes and transform it into anger.

3. Delving into Denialism: Rationality, Emotion, and Value in Social Context.

Leonardo Ribeiro

What kinds of epistemological and practical processes lead people to adhere to Covid denialism in spite of evidence to the contrary? We live in a world of increasing and pervasive distrust among social peers (on a global scale). This phenomenon can be partly explained as the result (or reinforcement) of ongoing multifarious social processes in our modern times: multiple ways of transmitting information, media fragmentation, technological advances with huge impact on daily life and on forms of social organization, high-level of specialization of scientific knowledge which affects science communication and its public reception, economic and ideological disputes which give rise to polarization among political groups, etc. This rather complex social scenario has substantial implications for the way human beings gather and weigh evidence to justify their beliefs and actions. A current phenomenon which may be considered an outcome of this scenario is a form of denialism regarding the official and prevailing scientific discourse on the Covid-19 pandemic. This phenomenon invites us to ask: what kinds of epistemological and practical processes lead people to adhere to denialism in spite of evidence to the contrary? May it be said that denialism is irrational? The aim of this paper is to argue that it would be too fast to say that denialism is completely irrational. According to a common social meaning of ‘rationality’, some expressions of denialism might be considered rational. This is so because the way we gather information, weigh evidence and identify reasons to believe and act is part of a social process shaped by evaluative judgements and emotional reactions. The apprehension of reality is always socially contextualized, spatiotemporally situated, modulated by emotional reactions and based on evaluative and epistemic theoretical assumptions (no matter how rudimentary these may be). In all this, trust as an attitude involving both an epistemic assessment and an emotional-evaluative reaction plays a crucial role in the relation between individual and society. Thus, it is a mistake to assume that all denialists are irrational.  What distinguishes the epistemological and practical processes of denialists is arguably the way that reality is contextually apprehended by them, in particular through the sources they take as trustworthy. Denialism poses a social epistemological challenge to contemporary societies, but one which cannot be fully explained without recognizing the role of trust (and its emotional and evaluative dimensions) in mediating epistemological processes in society.

4. Psychic Feelings and Emotions: Towards an Understanding of the Affective Structure of the Pandemic.

Flavio Williges   

Emotions elicited by the threat of the coronavirus and social distancing measures are usually characterized in a negative way in the literature about the pandemic. This paper argues that this is not true for all emotions. Based on philosophical and empirical studies of loneliness, I contend that transient feelings of loneliness experienced during the pandemic can help us to epistemically recognize what is significant or important to us in terms of social connection and fulfillment. Part of my argument depends on conceiving loneliness not only as an episodic “inner” emotion but rather as a pervasive emotion that involves psychic and bodily feelings, especially those related to how we apprehend the spatiality of the world. Finally, I also claim that the structure and content of loneliness help to explain why the pandemic should be seen as a transformative epistemic experience.