“No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and emotions shared by all.” – Albert Camus, The Plague



Again I wish to express my sympathy for the loss of life, grief, and personal hardship to all during this unprecedented pandemic. Nothing in these essays is intended to diminish the loss others have suffered. Instead I hope to find a philosophical grounding in order to extract the lessons and meaning of this tragedy and the possibility of consolation.

Now I hope to perform a metaphysical dissection of the pandemic with respect to free will, determinism, fate, fortune, and destiny. We begin by noting the natural law that led to coronavirus superficially fits the cause and effect chain of determinism suggesting a measure of inevitability, or in Richard Taylor’s parlance, causal, but not logical, necessity. Aristotle might interpolate theories of potentiality and actuality – that is, if the correct conditions exist for a bat virus to mutate into one which can infect humans, this will occur eventually given sufficient time.

On the other hand, a role for fortune (chance) can be argued; traditionally genetic mutations are not seen as determined, but accidental or sporadic. In that case COVID-19 was not predestined to arise, but is just a case of bad luck. Boethius might remind us that fortune is fickle, and while specific instances of good and bad fortune cannot be foreseen, it is entirely predictable that fortune will change.

We cannot ascertain the place of free will in the origin of the virus; although actions freely chosen by certain Chinese market merchants may have unwittingly led to the conditions whereby the new strain of virus emerged. The theologian can thus replay the case that the Almighty is not culpable for this evil since it is man-made and an acceptable price for human free agency. However I think this argument is no more viable than one claiming the deaths in Lisbon in 1755 due to an earthquake were a just price for human free choice to live where one wishes.

(continued next post)

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