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Lessons from COVID-19 VI: Sacrifices

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Trump has wavered on the practice of social distancing. One reason for the wavering is that billionaires have argued for getting back to work during the pandemic. Put in neutral terms, the gist of their argument is that maintaining the current pandemic practices will cause damage to the economy that will far exceed the damage done by sending people back to work. This is a classic utilitarian position in that the right action is the one that creates the greatest good (or the least harm).  Lieutenant Governor  Dan Patrick has advanced a similar, but much harsher argument. On his view, the damage done to the economy by the means taken to protect people from the virus far outweighs the damage done by putting people at risk. He went so far as to claim that he would be willing to die for the economy and seems quite willing to sacrifice other seniors as well. While this is obviously not a mainstream view, it has been getting some traction on Fox News and encourages Trump. While the billionaires and Patrick at least acknowledge that there is a downside to their proposals, there are those who see the deaths this approach would cause as a good thing—another plus rather than a minus. Presumably some of these are trolls, perhaps Russians trying to get Westerners to kill each other. While it is tempting to simply dismiss the billionaires as greedy sociopaths who are happy to sacrifice the health and lives of others to add a bit more to their already vast fortunes, they do raise an important general moral problem: to what extent should some be sacrificed for others? We are already allowing, and rightly praising, the sacrifices being made by people such as health care workers, grocery store workers and many others who are risking exposure for the good of others. As with the billionaires’ argument, this is morally justified on utilitarian grounds: the few put themselves at risk for the good of the many. They are literally keeping. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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