The Philosophy of COVID-19
March 20, 2020
Spoiler alert, the next couple sentences are a bit dark. But hang in there, because the darkness shows the light and there’s brightness at the end of the tunnel.
Here we go…
In AD 523, while awaiting execution, the Roman statesman Boethius wrote “The Consolation of Philosophy”, an imagined dialogue between Boethius and wisdom personified as ‘Lady Philosophy’. In the book, Philosophy consoles Boethius during his time of crisis in a roundabout way. She essentially says, “You can never really be secure until you are forsaken by fortune.”. This is a theme that rings throughout ancient Greek and Roman philosophy: crisis is a catalyst for flourishing.
Today, as COVID-19 sweeps the world and ravages ‘our way of life’, philosophy continues to offer consolation. Not mere comfort, but real consolation in the form of proactive steps we can take to navigate this moment well.
So how can philosophy help? It all boils down to what philosophy is.
“Philosophy” literally means the “love of wisdom”. We are doing philosophy in the face of crisis whenever we attempt to work out how to weather the storm well. We may not be able to control the storm (in fact we rarely can), but we certainly do have the power to go through it with courage. And that’s part of the consolation of philosophy. By choosing to digest what is going on in us and around us rather than allowing a stress response to make us fight, flee or freeze, we become more curious in the crisis. And by curiously engaging with the difficult thing we are all going through, we are much better placed to spot novel solutions, to learn and to grow.
You don’t have to read philosophy books to benefit from the love of wisdom at this time (though that’s not a bad idea either, and I would highly recommend the 5 books below as good friends to take into self-isolation.). You just have to notice when you’re headed into stress, press pause and then take a few minutes to get curious about what it might mean for you to live the next few minutes of your life in a way that you can be proud of.
5 PHILOSOPHY BOOKS FOR CHALLENGING TIMES
- What is Philosophy For, Mary Midgley Midgley’s clear and simple writing is brilliant for anyone interested in getting stuck into philosophy but doesn’t want a lecture!
- Letters From a Stoic, Seneca Ancient Spanish Statesman, philosopher and advisor to Niro, Seneca is a poster-boy for the Stoic approach to handling life’s difficulties, a philosophy he lived out all the way to the end.
- Meditations, Marcus Aurelius Like Seneca, Aurrelius is known as one of the poster boys of Stoicism. Written while he was Emperor of Rome in a particularly tricky time of famine, plague and flood. Marcus digests his difficulties and gives the reader tips on how to live well despite the worst life can throw at you.
- Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics, Onora O’Neill Baroness O’Neill is a British treasure. This book will provide plenty of food for thought to anyone interested in the current relationship between society and healthcare professionals.
- I and Thou, Martin Buber This is Buber’s acclaimed classic presenting the view that meaningful human life is found in relationships.