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Thursday, April 2, 2020

Social Distancing as a Moral Dilemma

E. Litvack
U. A. News
Originally posted 31 March 20

Here is an excerpt:

Q: At this point, is social distancing a moral imperative?

This is an interesting philosophical question. A moral imperative is a command to act in a certain way, which everyone should follow, and, in order to invoke one, we need to explain what makes a particular action right or morally good.

A: In the context of the current health crisis, we can plausibly make the claim that it is a morally good state of affairs if we save the greatest number of lives possible. Not everyone would agree with that claim, but I'll leave that argument aside for now and return to it later. For now, let's assume that promoting health and saving lives is a morally good goal for society. Given that premise – if we also accept the empirical evidence, which suggests that social distancing is a means to halt the spread of the virus – it's easy to see how one would defend their judgment that it is morally wrong not to practice social distancing.

Q: How might someone argue that saving lives isn't a moral imperative?

A: Some people might argue that there is a naturalistic and evolutionary reason to let the virus take its course. It would reduce human population, which, in the long run, could be a good thing in terms of having more resources for fewer people. Notice one thing this view entails, though: The person who holds it must be willing to accept that they or their loved ones might be among those who contribute to the population reduction.

Likewise, some might argue that certain people have more value than others and therefore deserve to live while others do not. This would require a set of criteria by which to judge the value of a life, and unless someone – or some entity – creates that criteria by fiat, then to define "a valuable life" requires us to circle right back around to our original premise.

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