Spreading the Plague: Vulnerability, Solidarity and Autonomy in the Time of Pandemic

Revista de Filosofie Aplicata 3 (Supplementary Issue):69 - 81 (2020)
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Abstract
In a series of reflections published in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, Giorgio Agamben expresses a number of concerns related to the way the pandemic has altered the very fabric of our societies, potentially changing it forever. While maintaining a certain scepticism towards the threat represented by the virus itself, Agamben claims that the response to the contagion shows how easy it is for authorities to limit individual freedoms in the name of public health, and how readily they are willing to put such limitations in place. At the same time, the pandemic shows how easy it is for individuals to accept this situation as the new normal, and how readily they are willing to give up their freedoms and relationships. In this paper I offer a brief overview of Agamben’s worries, focussing on two issues in particular: the loss of individual freedom of movement and association, and the moral and political implications of social distancing. I then approach these issues from a different angle, making use of relational theory to propose an alternative framework which relies on the notion of vulnerability. While agreeing with Agamben that there is reason to worry about the state seizing the opportunity to exercise unchecked power over its citizens, I argue that we should pay attention to the ways in which social distancing measures can be grounded in solidarity and respect for the autonomy of vulnerable individuals.
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