Some Philosophical Responses to the Coronavirus

One of the few sentences from Hegel I think I understand is “The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk”. When history has unfurled we will see its full significance, but not until then. But lacking a Hegelian confidence and altitude from which to interpret the logic of our story, what are we to make of the current crisis? Can philosophy illuminate this confusing mess? Perhaps a little, if we cherry-pick from its history.

Were Susan Sontag alive today we could count on her to be scathing about the way politicians have been speaking about Covid-19. In Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors, she analysed the metaphors used around TB, cancer and HIV. Today martial metaphors dominate. Emmanuel Macron declared war on the virus in the first few weeks of March. He used the phrase “We are at war” six times in one speech. Around the same time Boris Johnson announced “We are engaged in a war against the disease which we have to win”. Across the Atlantic Andrew Cuomo described doctors and nurses as “the soldiers who are fighting this battle for us”.

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