Philosophers – where are you?

Ian Martin (Times 4.2.21) writes that we need philosophers to get us out of this mess we are in. He is right that, during this year long pandemic, few intellectuals have had much to say about the direction in which our country, and the world, might need to go when Covid has finally been brought under some control.

Any thoughtful conversations currently taking place about the ethical and moral implications of this emergency, must be happening behind closed doors. Where have they gone: those TV programmes that used to feature genuine discussion about issues that affected society? I miss them – and we need them now. It is not enough for the news to report daily figures about the pandemic. We have become fixated on data – hooked on daily graphs that show numbers of people infected with the virus, or who have sadly died. So, should our future direction rely solely on data or more ethical considerations?

Data is extracted from science and relies on figures prepared by computers. Beneath and beyond the numbers there is nothing about the human emotions, frailties and problems that have been created by this virus. And it seems that viruses will continue to attack us: such is the nature of our human world. Is our fight with nature man-made? Having delved into the jungles and dark places where these viruses live – has mankind so disturbed their habitats – that the environment is biting back – with a vengeance? Once this emergency has been dealt with, we need to talk about what normal living means to all of us. Does it mean going back to what we have done previously (continuing to destroy our planet) – or should we venture, metaphorically speaking, into new territory?

So why philosophy? During previous centuries philosophers appeared as deep thinkers, often speaking and writing about how they believed societies should be governed and conducted. Philosophy has always been at the heart of policy and decision-making. Philosophy is about belief. It is about the ‘could and should’ of human living.

So what beliefs has this pandemic forced, not just Britain, but the entire world, to confront, whether we like it or not? Racism (Black Lives Matter) and issues of Global warming for starters. Do we all believe (honestly?) that every person has equal worth as a human being? Clearly not – or else the recent murders based purely on skin colour would have ceased to happen?

What about the vaccine? Not everyone agrees on the order of immunisation. Those most vulnerable from old age? Those living and working in care homes? All NHS workers? Teachers and school assistants? Those who are shielding? Workers who interact with the public, such as bus drivers and shop assistants? Should that second jab be given to those who received the first (as most vulnerable) – or should everyone, including the young, receive a first jab to allow us all some protection? These decisions are philosophical – not everyone thinks the same – because not everyone believes the same. Our value judgements are all different. Philosophy is about thoughts and minds, emotions and hearts. Yet how often do we use this uniquely-human tool to solve uniquely-human problems? Rarely!

If the world’s population must be reduced by 10% – who should go? People over eighty five or ninety? Those who rely on others to care for them? Similarly, if post-pandemic employment is reduced, who should be first in line for available jobs? Should people over 60, or even 55, be retired, to make way for ex-students to begin their careers, and those with families to support themselves? I have no answers to such thorny questions – few of us would have. Yet, at some point down the line, priorities, involving difficult choices, may have to be made.

We are also heading towards huge technological changes: that threaten to overpower any considerations of moral and ethical humanity: such as artificial intelligence: not to mention the effects of global warming and the imminent destruction of our planet. What use will technology be: without the natural world upon which science also depends? This question is philosophical – as is any question that will get us out of this self-made mess.

So, let’s get talking about how we wish to emerge from this world crisis and solve, not only the immediate problems caused by Covid, but those that have been hidden for centuries – but ignored because thinking about them makes us feel uncomfortable.

It is now time for Boris, and other leaders, to stop gallivanting around the country, cease his silly posturing, and do what he tells everyone else to do – stay home! His time could be better spent philosophising with knowledgeable thinkers who could help us emerge from this mess, in ways that are non-political and without self-interest. Imagine how meaningful and open-ended such televised debate could be – positively enlightening? Or, would that portray too many government secrets, perhaps? Mmmm?

Brexit is a case in point. How many people would have voted differently if proper, non-political debates had been conducted, with all issues fully aired so that people could understand the ins and outs (no pun intended) – the consequences of that referendum? Will Britain pay for years because many people voted without fully understanding the bigger picture?

Philosophy is all about seeing the bigger picture! But, when it comes to problem solving, the ‘bigger picture’ depends on many different view-points being expressed – as parts of the whole. So, all you philosophers – come on out and let’s get talking.

I am author of thirteen books for schools, plus five for parents. If your child has SEND, Book 1: Support Your Child with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities: a guide for parents, offers all you need to know about the SEND system. Books 2 to 5: Support Your Child At The Early Years Foundation Stage, At Key Stage One, At Key Stage Two and At Key Stage Three – offer a comprehensive outline of WHAT should be taught and HOW. Available from Lulu or Amazon.

Sylvia Edwards

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