Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

The Ghosts of the Past Year. What Ghosts for the New Year?

  The devil scene from Walt Disney's 1940 "Fantasia" movie. A fitting representation of the nightmare that 2020 has been. This clip is especially fitting because you may notice how the devil doesn't really do anything bad during the whole scene. He summons ghosts and demons, they scream, they fly, they dance, but they don't touch anything, don't harm anyone. Evil is a characteristic of our mind: we create evil and we suffer its consequences. Perhaps we could hear bells dispelling the devil in 2021, as it happens in the movie at 5:40? Maybe, but it is also possible that we'll create even worse ghosts than anything seen in 2020. Whatever the case, as always, we'll remain dominated by the ghost that we ourselves create. [More]

Scale and Symmetry in Covid Debates

One curious feature of some public debate about Covid policy is when people object to a disliked policy proposal by appealing to a consideration that counts at least as much against the alternative.  Here I'll just highlight a couple of especially striking examples of this: scale and unknown risks.(1) Scale:  Back when people were debating whether society's response might end up being worse than the disease, it wasn't unusual to see health boosters emphasize the sheer scale of the health costs that would be incurred along the path to herd immunity through natural infection.  "Even a fatality rate of just 0.01% for younger adults would translate into thousands of deaths across that population."  That kind of thing.Which invites the obvious response: Yes, the scale of a pandemic makes the policy stakes really high!  For example, if you lower everyone's quality of life by an average of 1/3 for a year, that translates into more than 100 million life-years of equivalent value lost in the US alone (cf. estimated health gains of a few million life-years from covid prevention measures).Of course, that's just a made-up illustration.  Maybe average quality of life has not declined so much. But the essential point remains that any non-trivial cost imposed across an entire population results in massive total damages.  And it's not hard to see how the indirect costs of the pandemic could add up here.  There are nearly 50 million [More]