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Chapter summaries


Maxwell J. Smith 

1. The pandemic age: An overview.

Evandro Barbosa

We are in a Pandemic Age. Our compendium’s guiding question is this: Could the COVID-19 pandemic be (re)forging new kinds of moral bonds among humans? Living in pandemic times is like having the sword of Damocles hanging over our necks each day. A host of significant changes have shaped, and stressed, our family, work, and social relationships. Although a wide range of philosophical discussions have mapped out some of the ethical issues related to the pandemic, one thing that seems to have been overlooked is that these human relationships themselves should be an object of study for ethicists. Our intention in this companion is to bring into focus novel questions about how relations during pandemic times shape and are shaped by our moral behavior, attitudes, and judgments. The contributors have all been experiencing the pandemic in widely varying contexts across the planet. Their explorations of the moral content at the heart ofour relationships can help us all to unfold what I call pandemic relations and to understand in depth the implications of this new (provisional or not) social dynamic for morality.


2. On the Moral Psychology of the Pandemic Agent.

Anneli Jefferson & Lisa Bortolotti

What should rational agents who want to act morally do during a pandemic: think for themselves or follow expert advice? In threatening situations characterized by uncertainty and significant risks to themselves and others, agents have epistemic and psychological needs that influence their decisions and are vulnerable to biases affecting their estimation of risk. Here, we consider the need for certainty and the optimism bias among other relevant factors. The presence of these influences on decision making suggests that in a crisis, such as a pandemic, agents are not in the best position to make decisions without relying on expert advice and support. However, in situations such as the initial stages of the pandemic, political and scientific authorities disagree on the best course of action and their recommendations conflict. Moreover, political leaders and scientific experts facing an uncertain threat are not immune themselves from epistemic and psychological biases. We suggest that citizens should not bear the sole responsibility of making complex decisions and estimating risks, and should be able to access sources that are marked as epistemically credible. For this to happen, institutions such as governments and scientific communities need to put in place structural measures to avoid and counteract biased decision making.

3. Feeling lonely: towards a phenomenological account of loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Flavio Williges 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought varied and intense emotions. During the most stringent times of lockdowns and social distancing measures, many reported painful feelings of loneliness. Although our emotional experience has been mostly negative, the chapter shows that the loneliness many felt also had a positive outcome which has mostly gone unnoticed. This positive significance is explained through a phenomenological analysis of loneliness as a pervasive bodily emotion with intentional or cognitive content. Loneliness is described as an emotion of absence that reacts to the lack of social goods such as companionship, intimacy, and social support, and also to the lack of involvement or belonging to familiar places such as parks, streets, and facilities. The main purpose of this chapter is to argue that feeling lonely in response to the disruptive reality of the pandemic helps us understand the subjective importance of social relations and integration with the world around us. 

4. From fear to anger: An investigation of the relationship between negative emotions and populism in the context of COVID-19.

Matheus Mesquita Silveira

The presence of emotions with negative valence is ordinarily considered a relevant factor in the emergence of populist movements guided by ideological extremism. In this line, the present article sets out to examine whether emotions such as fear and anger influence individuals’ adherence to populism in the context of COVID-19. Fear is characterized by cognitive science as a transient emotional state with genetically informed traits, but different social triggers. Anger, likewise, is a social emotion directly related to aggressive behavior towards others and can be triggered by biological or cultural factors. On the basis of studies from empirical and social sciences, the article advances the argument that fear, and anger are key to the advance of ideological extremism in the setting of COVID-19. The argument is that COVID-19 constantly reinforces a social state of anxiety, where chronic fear consists of a corollary effect of the pandemic. Thus, behaviors related to these emotional states play an important role in shaping the social context of the pandemic, defined as individual or collective attitudes arising in response to reactions triggered by the real or imagined threat of a potentially traumatic event. As a result, the chronic fear inherent to life in the social context of COVID-19 can be manipulated in the service of political extremism, allowing triggers for anger to turn it to hatred through the characteristic Manichean rhetoric of populism.

5. ‘Nobody Makes it Alone’: Towards a Relational View of Resilience.

Martina Orlandi

This chapter argues that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the limits of the mainstream individualistic notion of resilience and, in light of these limits, it advances a new, relational notion of the concept of resilience that contributes to the individuals’ well-being and takes into consideration the role of systemic inequality. The first half of the paper argues that the individualistic notion is flawed in two ways: i) it can foster ill-being because it is cognitively taxing, and ii) it discounts systemic inequality because it transfers the responsibility of any achievement and failure onto the single individual without regard for conditions of oppression. The second half of the paper conceptualizes the concept of resilience as a relational notion that takes into account structural support as well as conditions of oppression and marginalization. According to this latter notion of resilience, the chapter argues that oppression, lack of material conditions, or lack of structural support are elements that can impact the appropriateness of calls to be resilient. A relational notion of resilience fosters well-being because it puts the collective community at the center (instead of the individual) and it takes into consideration material conditions and structural injustices.


6. The COVID-19 pandemic and the language of virtues.  

Denis Coitinho

This chapter discusses the change that occurred with the Covid-19 Pandemic with the introduction of a new language of virtues and reflects on some problems arising from this change. From the context of the pandemic, people began to be demanded to behave virtuously, that is, they began to be encouraged to be prudent, solidary, resilient and just, especially blaming greed. Although this new social demand for virtues would be welcome, it is possible to identify three problems, one practical, one more theoretical and another political. The practical problem is that virtue (moral and intellectual) is acquired through a process of habituation, and this takes time. It is not enough to say that one must be prudent, solidary, resilient and just so that agents will act automatically in a virtuous way. It is also necessary to practice virtuous actions in order to acquire a virtuous character. The theoretical problem which can be observed in the political field is that a liberal democratic state, like the one in which we live, does not require virtuous behavior from its citizens because it naturally wants to avoid paternalism.  Finally, the political problem is that there is a lack of clarity in identifying what constitutes “justice” and how it may affect our major political, social and economic institutions.

7. An alternative model of ethics for global crises: Confucian relationism.  

Jana S. Rošker

This chapter discusses the ethics of Confucian relationism and its potential applicability in times of global crises such as those triggered by the Covid-19 pandemics. Since such crises are global crises, they cannot be solved within the narrow confines of individual states. The solution can only be found through global solidarity and cooperation. In such times, it is therefore especially important to incorporate the knowledge, experiences, and various practices developed in different cultures into our crisis management strategies. As a Sinologist, the author will focus on the rich tradition of Confucian relational ethics, which was shaped in ancient China and later spread throughout the Sinic region in various, slightly modified forms. Indeed, Confucian relationism is based on communal values, for each person’s identity is constituted by his or her relationships with others. Such values can promote effective cooperation and other models of interpersonal help and support, which is of paramount importance in dealing with any epidemic crisis.

8. Danse Macabre: Levity and Morality in a Plague Year

Simone Gubler

This chapter addresses a question of onlooker morality. It asks whether it is wrong to be publicly happy, or to engage in certain sorts of leisure, when (as was the case during the pandemic) we are aware that many members of our community are sick and dying.

9. Well-Being in the Time of Covid-19.

Mauro Rossi 

Over the past year and a half, the world has been hit by a dramatic pandemic, which has brought death, suffering and hardships of many sorts to millions of people. For some, however, the pandemic has brought happiness and a better life. In some cases, this apparent contradiction does not present a puzzle. Some individuals have simply been spared by the virus and by the wave of suffering that it has generated. In this chapter, however, I am interested in those individuals whose well-being has increased despite the direct or indirect experience of the virus and its negative consequences. How can we make sense of their situation? I start by rejecting two common explanations. The first is the hedonistic explanation. According to it, these individuals have simply found a way to increase their overall balance of pleasures versus pains, despite the difficult context. The second is the eudemonistic explanation. According to it, the pandemic has led these individuals to develop virtuous traits, which have manifested in activities that have increased their well-being. I propose an alternative explanation, based on the fitting-happiness theory of well-being that I have recently developed with Christine Tappolet. Our theory holds that an individual’s life goes well when the individual is fittingly happy, that is, when the individual affectively experiences items, situations, and activities that are of genuine value and that match the individual’s deepest evaluative attitudes. I argue that, for some individuals, the pandemic has been the occasion to revise their most fundamental evaluative attitudes and has created opportunities for fitting affective experiences that better align with these attitudes. For those individuals, the pandemic has brought personal flourishing despite the suffering. 


10. Delving into denialism: Rationality, emotion, value, and trust in social context.

Leonardo de Mello Ribeiro

Even after millions of deaths and infections throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen pervasive expressions of denial, rejection and resistance regarding scientifically based official public health discourse and protocols. This phenomenon might be interpreted as a form of denialismand it invites us to ask: what kinds of epistemological and practical processes lead people to adhere to denialism in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary? Is denialism irrational? The aim of this chapter is to argue that it would be too fast to say that denialism is altogether irrational. Although denialism may be taken as epistemically irrational, some expressions of denialism might be considered rational from a social-psychologicalperspective. This is so because the way we get informed and identify reasons to believe and act is part of social processes shaped by evaluative judgements and emotional reactions. In all this, trust as a socially embedded attitude involving both cognitive and emotional-evaluative components plays a crucial role in the relation between individual and society. So, denialism should be no surprise for societies in which there is high distrust among social peers, pervasive structural inequalities (social, economic, political) and significant imbalance in the social distribution of knowledge.

11. COVID rule breakers and the social contract.

Peter R. Anstey

During the COVID-19 pandemic new government restrictions on civil liberties brought the issue of the social contract to the fore. Many citizens objected to such things as the imposition of social distancing, compulsory mask wearing and lockdowns, and protests and dissent were common. This chapter examines three types of rule-breakers that emerged during the pandemic against the backdrop of the social contract: first, the conspiracy theorist, for COVID conspiracies proliferated during the pandemic; second, the generic dissenter who is not so much a conscientious objector as one who finds the government’s COVID response presumptuous; and third, the free rider, including a particularly dangerous form of free rider, the sensible knave. Each of these dissenters raises interesting philosophical issues that are best understood through the lens of the social contract.

12. Chance, consent, and COVID-19.

Ryan Doody

Are mandatory lockdown measures, which place restrictions on one’s freedom to move and assemble, justifiable? Offhand, such measures appear to compromise important rights to secure goals of public health. Proponents of such measures think the trade-off is worth it; opponents think it isn’t. However, one might think that casting the debate in these terms concedes too much to the opponents. Mandatory lockdown measures don’t infringe important rights because no one has a right to impose a risk of grievous harm on others – and, in the context of a pandemic, participating in the prohibited activities (e.g., going out to the bar) does just that. This chapter explores whether this defense of mandatory lockdown measures holds up. It, first, considers whether we have a right against risk imposition-and, if so, how such a right is best understood. It then considers the objection that, even if there is such a right, people who voluntarily choose to engage in the prohibited activities – at least if fully appraised of the risks involved – effectively waive it. The chapter argues that this objection fails.

13. Allocation of scarce intensive care units in COVID-19 and ageism.

Alcino Eduardo Bonella

In the scenario of extreme scarcity of hospital resources for the high volume of patients in the COVID-19 pandemic, some protocols proposed or adopted, and some specialized papers, incorporated cycle life or age criterion as a relevant factor for the allocation of ICU beds and ventilators. What can we think, from an ethical point of view, about the use of age? At first sight, our intuitions seem to conflict: one of the forms of negative discrimination consists in arbitrarily disfavoring someone just because they are older; we have the intuition to condemn what can then be called ageism. However, with a little more information, and observing the most immediate attitude of medical teams at the beginning of the pandemic, we are left in doubt whether the use of the age factor, prioritizing, for example, in the case of COVID-19, the youngest, corresponds to something reprehensible or if the problem would not be exactly not using life cycles or age. With further reflection, the ethical challenge is that there is probably more harm in losing a younger life than an older one. There is apparently soundness in favor of using age and giving priority to younger people.

Part 4: After COVID-19 life: Some moral issues

14. Faces of responsibility and moral agency in a pandemic age. 

Evandro Barbosa & Thaís Alves Costa 

During a pandemic, it is crucial to identify agents’ duties and to whom they can be addressed. This chapter address some issues about the burden of responsibility of agents in a pandemic-like situation. Different moral agents (institutional, social, and individual) have corresponding moral responsibilities that fall on them to varying degrees. In the case of individual agents, we argue that elements such as the challenging context of the pandemic, facilitating conditions for decision-making, and the harm principle are an alternative to establishing a metric on the weight of moral responsibility on individual agents.

15. Community, care, and social recognition in a post-COVID world of work. 

Joshua Preiss 

The Covid-19 pandemic ushered in dramatic changes to the world of work and the moral relations between individual managers, workers, customers, and their families. It accelerated, often quite dramatically, existing trends toward greater work from home, ecommerce, and automation. This chapter explores the ways in which these trends hinder or further the ability of workers to enjoy important relational goods. The focus is on three relational goods impacted by changes to the content, location, and valuation of work: community, care, and social recognition. This analysis points to the ways in which a “bad” of work, domination, threatens the enjoyment of the goods at work. Finally, this chapter articulates policies – including a federal jobs guarantee and public investment in child care and early childhood education – that not only enable workers and their families to enjoy essential relational goods, but also create a more free and just post-Covid world of work.

16. The emerging field of pandemic ethics. 

Marcelo de Araujo

The COVID pandemic has raised a plethora of moral questions relative, for instance, to the behaviour of citizens during a health crisis, or to the establishment protocols for a fair allocation of scarce medical resources, or to the behaviour of political leaders towards their people, or to the behaviour of richer states toward poorer states in the distribution of vaccines. Yet little effort has been made in the attempt to conceptualize these and other morally relevant questions within the conceptual framework of a distinctive field, namely that of pandemic ethics. Just in the same way climate ethics emerged, nearly thirty years ago, as a field of investigation, pandemic ethics is now gradually emerging as unified whole as well. This chapter examines some important methodological challenges that both pandemic ethics and climate ethics have to address: they deal with issues related to social justice, international justice, and intergenerational justice at the same time. But while anthropogenic climate change is a one-off phenomenon in the history of humankind, pandemics have been cyclical events. The chapter shows, then, how the cyclical nature of pandemics has important implications for our understanding of pandemic ethics as a field of investigation in its own right.