Taking people working in the social sciences and humanities by surprise, the Covid-19 pandemic has occasioned a “rethink” of the entire spectrum of modern phenomena shaping human destiny. Disease and health, public policy and the neoliberal economy, the state and social care, educational institutions and the future of work, migration and forms of solidarity, the environment and technology, information and “fake news” – all are topics of heated discussion in the wake of Covid-19. Some – driven to conspiracy theories and extreme right populism – find it opportune to attack democracy. Others instead return to spotlight the diseases of materialist civilization and reiterate Martin Heidegger’s infamous claim that “in many of the matters that matter, we have not yet begun to think”.
To explore such a rethink, the ACRPS journal Tabayyunfor Philosophical Studies and Critical Theory devoted its annual symposium to exploring the many dimensions of this pandemic. Titled Philosophy, Disease, and the Corona Pandemic, the 23 January 2021 Tabayyun Symposium assembled researchers of different backgrounds and disciplines via Zoom and ACRPS’ social media platforms. Discussions ranged beyond the biological and medical disciplines concerned with the pandemic and disease generally and explored relevant historical and social dimensions as well as ethical concerns relating, more broadly still, to technical civilization.
The symposium was divided into three sessions: In the first session moderated by Tabayyun editor-in-chief Raja Bahloul, Zawawi Beghoura presented Michel Foucault's basic concepts of disease and detailed how the subject of disease occupied Foucault throughout his life, from Mental Illness and Personality (1954), to the Birth of the Clinic (1963) and his teaching at the Collège de France. Rachid Boutayeb lectured on discussions within German social philosophy on “societal illness,” as seen particularly in Axel Honith's critical dialogue with Sigmund Freud and Alexander Mitscherlich. Mushir Bassil Aoun then discussed disease as essentially an ontological question, considering three forms of what he termed the “reflexivity” of contemporary man: the biological, the ontological and the emotional-psychological. Finally, Adel Hadjami reflected on the various challenges a person faces in the present day, accompanying us in a journey through different philosophical worlds and times. He closed the session by cautioning us - recalling Deleuze – against reducing philosophy to journalism and the daily – as the “new philosophers” did and still do.
The second session’s presentations, moderated by researcher Omar al-Magharebi, began with Muhammad Maraqten’s review of the ravages of epidemics in civilizations of the ancient Near East; he underlined the importance of considering human historical experience when seeking to understand today’s corona pandemic. Mutaz al-Khatib then presented the viewpoint of Islamic ethics highlighting the history of dealing with epidemics in Islamic theology or kalam and emphasizing the moral-ethical focus of Islamic discourse on the pandemic today. Kamel Terchi in his intervention reflected on Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard's conception of physical and spiritual illness and its influence in existential philosophers after him. The session ended with a lecture by Mouldi Ezdini examining forms of imbalance in the institutional uses of medicine and science, and the impact these have on human beings. He accentuated the importance of bioethics in contemporary medicine, advocating a critical philosophy of values to deconstruct what he sees as a biomedical politics of silence.
In the third session and closing the symposium, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies Dr. Amal Ghazal introduced Professor of Moral Philosophy and Applied Ethics at Canada’s Laval University Marie-Hélène Parizeau, to present her lecture “Covid-19 between Technical Logic and Social Fallout”. Dr. Parizeau highlighted forms of social, economic, political, and environmental precarity prominent in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and assessed today’s tensions between issues of care and their technical responses. In discussing the pandemic’s effects, she referenced American philosopher Joan Tronto’s theory of care and French philosopher and sociologist Jacques Ellul’s conception of système technicien – an efficient, fast, automated, and independent technological system. Parizeau opined that even if many governments do realise the importance to society of caregiving, to a large extent they have opted for technical solutions to preserve economic activities. She also observed that resorting to a transition to digital methods has had major repercussions on higher education, the arts, cultural production, the employment sector and democracy. Concluding the symposium Parizeau offered numerous examples of how technological solutions dehumanize – and ruin human caring relationships. Stripped of their human character, relationships become characterized by profound inequality and social exclusion.
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