Epicurean Priority-setting During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond
The aim of this article is to study the relationship between Epicureanism and pandemic priority-setting and to explore whether Epicurus's philosophy is compliant with the later developed utilitarianism. We find this aim interesting because Epicurus had a different way of valuing death than our modern society does: Epicureanism holds that death—understood as the incident of death—cannot be bad (or good) for those who die (self-regarding effects). However, this account is still consistent with the view that a particular death can be bad for everyone else but those who die, such as family, friends, and society (other-regarding effects). During the pandemic, the focus has been on the number of deaths more than on the suffering and reduced well-being of those infected and the rest of society. However, since the pandemic requires prioritization, it is, on a utilitarian account, important to consider priorities that do the most good overall. In this article, we approach the harm of death from an Epicurean point of view, seeking to flesh out potential implications for pandemic priority-setting, and healthcare in general, using a case study of COVID-19 priority-setting. We also explore whether this would conflict with utilitarianism. We conclude that an Epicurean pandemic priority-setting approach would be different but, surprisingly, not radically different from many of the actual priority-setting decisions we saw under the COVID-19 pandemic.
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