Last time we looked at metaphysical issues of free will ,determinism, and fortune within the subject of the current crisis. In addition fate, the subjective sense of an inexorable march of events, is likely to be invoked in this epidemic. In an earlier post1 I identified three reasons we subjectively lean towards fatalism: (1) situational – the recognition that most events in the world that affect us play out without our meaningful input, making our circumstances precarious, (2) helplessness – our apparent inability to alter the course of events, (3) unpredictability of action –our experience that even well-conceived, freely chosen action frequently leads to unexpected and undesired consequences, often the very outcomes we struggle to avoid. Richard Taylor presents the metaphysical argument for fate: if statements in general are true or false, then statements of future events also are true or false, and therefore the future is fixed by those truths. As I observed previously, this is a fascinating and exceptional example of metaphysical and empirical concordance; our subjective sense of fatalism is substantiated by our concept of truth.2
In the case of COVID-19, the situational aspect of fatalism is existentially confirmed. However, we must shrug off the sense of helplessness. Actions we take such as social distancing and mutual assistance do impact the course of the outbreak and offer real hope of shortening its duration and limiting its lethality. While some of our planning may be of uncertain value, the real-time, science-based assessment of our efforts and appropriate legislative responses offer real opportunities to attenuate the harm from the pandemic. And just because the truth of future statements is metaphysically inviolate does not mean the future is grim; instead we can follow Immanuel Kant in an ethical design of the future we desire.
Our final metaphysical question for today is the impact of this and likely future pandemics on human destiny. Homo sapiens may be doomed to eventual extinction, but it seems to me that global lethal infection is an unlikely scenario for that future. It is more likely to occur due to our own self-annihilation through weapons of mass destruction or from environmental or planetary catastrophe. Dangerous infectious agents are both self-limiting (less likely to spread widely when highly lethal to hosts) and vulnerable to scientific investigation and elimination. Meanwhile, any enemy of humanity lowers barriers between peoples and encourages united effort. In earlier essays, I discussed how most thinkers predict man’s destiny as one of increasing cooperation and integration.3 One silver lining of this pandemic is the opportunity to witness societal evolution on the scale of a human lifetime rather than as an empty promise or mere future hope. And it gives us all a tangible opportunity to participate in that aspiration.
1See my post Fate – Part II; The Subjective Experience on this site 8/9/19.
1See my post Fate – Part III; The Metaphysical Argument on this site 8/12/19.
1See my posts on this site 9/9/19 and 9/11/19 (Fred Kohler), 9/13/19 (Fred Hoyle), 9/16/19 (John Fiske), 9/18/19 (Arnold Toynbee, 9/20/19 (Will Durant), 9/23/19 (Immanuel Kant), 9/25/19 (Karl Jaspers), and 10/4/19 (Teilhard de Chardin).