Kants Theoretical Significance in Covid 19 Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic is raging across the world in 2020. Some countries have been devastated by the virus while other countries have managed to minimise the loss of life. This article questions whether Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative may guide us in dealing with Covid-19.

The Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is raging across the world in 2020. The World Health Organisation names the virus Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) whereas the disease is called Coronavirus or Covid-19 (WHO, 2020). Some countries have managed relatively well while others have been overwhelmed. The last few decades have seen a huge increase in globalisation. Through more affordable international air travel, increased international trade and the internet, we have become more connected than ever before. However, this interconnectedness has also contributed to the rapid spread of Covid-19. The pandemic has changed the relationships between individuals and states. There have been tensions between states, between individuals, and even between some governments and their own people. Strangers and returning migrant workers are often being viewed with suspicion by those who believe themselves to be virus-free. The concept of Insider and Outsider has been redefined in many cases. So Covid-19 has also changed the way the world looks at human security. The virus is challenging the security of the Individual and the State in a unique way. In traditional ideas of security, the state sought to secure its borders, thus protecting the civilian population. However, traditional border checks are unable to stop the spread of the pandemic. Individuals across the world have been infected and as a result the security of many states has been harmed.

From a philosophical perspective some have questioned how the ideas of Immanuel Kant might provide a guide to appropriate behaviour at this time (Marshall, 2020; Dineen quoted in Humphreys, 2020). Kant was a German philosopher writing during the Enlightenment and time of Rationalism. The importance of science and reason were being stressed at this time. In 1785 he developed his Categorical Imperative, a rule to guide the ethical and rational behaviour of people (Kant, 1998). The first formulation of his Categorical Imperative is known as the Formula of the Law of Nature and states: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” This is also referred to as Kant’s concept of Universalizability. The second formulation of the Categorical Imperative is known as the “Formula of the End in Itself” and states: “Act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another, always as an end and never as only a means.”

This year has shown us the importance of Human Security and the devastation to public health and economies caused by a microscopic virus. We are more interconnected now than 100 years ago and as a result the virus spread more quickly than the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918. However, this interconnectedness can also help us to share medicines, protective equipment and ultimately vaccines. With that interconnectedness comes a greater responsibility to our fellow humans. In modern neurobiology there is a consensus that all species must learn to cooperate. Michael Tomasello et al (2009) argue that those species which can cooperate, and work together are the fittest and will survive.

The Coronavirus is still raging around the world. Lessons are still being learnt, though there is some broad consensus over issues such as social distancing and mask wearing. The countries which have been most successful replied on a combination of factors: respect for science and reason, regular and clear communications, and a united approach. 

We need human solidarity more than ever. Following Kant’s Categorical Imperatives certainly seemed to be a way of managing the Covid-19 pandemic. It is significant that Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand obeyed Kant’s Categorical Imperative, treated her population as ends and not just means and was re-elected. The importance of Human Security must be appreciated more than ever. Gandhi wrote that if we indulge in a vice, get sick and are cured, we must change the vice or behaviour that caused the illness (Gandhi, 1909). At the end of the day, the world will recover from Covid-19. However, this should be a wake-up call for humanity. If Climate Change continues there is no guarantee that humanity will survive environmental catastrophes. Human solidarity and cooperation are essential for our survival.