The Science & Politics of Lockdowns

Town center, Castelldefels. Saturday 28 March 2020, at 1pm

The coronavirus crisis has thrown into sharp relief how important it is to understand the epistemology of epidemiology, and the ethical and political dimensions of society’s responses to a pandemic situation. Analytic philosophers of many different nations and many different specializations have been thinking  profoundly and writing about these issues, since the pandemic began. BIAP aims to showcase the best of this work, and bring it to the attention the widest possible public, in this series of online lectures.

Lecture 01
Epidemics, science and lockdowns: why the models failed us

Eric Winsberg (U. South Florida)

Date:  Monday 30 November, 2020, 6pm CET
Since the beginning of the pandemic, models have played a larger role in guiding human affairs than perhaps ever in history. Simple models have been used to predict the “herd immunity threshold” for Covid-19. More complex models have been used to predict the natural course of the disease and project the impact of various candidate interventions. Causal modeling has been used to infer the (counterfactual) effects of past interventions. Some of the decisions that have been guided by these models have been disastrous. The brazen character of some of the inferences that have been drawn and widely publicized will likely diminish the future credibility of science in an increasingly politically fractured world. Why has this happened? How can we do better in the future?

Lecture 02
Policy-making in a pandemic: Justifying lockdown

Philippe van Basshuysen (Leibniz U. Hannover & London School of Economics & Political Science), and
Lucie White (Institut für Philosophie, Leibniz U. Hannover)

Date:  Monday, 01 February 2021, 5pm CET
In response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many governments initially imposed lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus. It has been argued that these lockdowns weren’t justified, as such severe impositions on individual liberties require that governments meet high epistemic standards, which were not satisfied at the beginning of the pandemic because the data available at the time were poor, and the models that guided policy decisions were flawed (Winsberg et al. 2020). We contend that this argument is based on erroneous claims about the available evidence. By revisiting the epistemic basis upon which policy decisions were made at the beginning of the pandemic, we can begin to think about whether, and under what circumstances, lockdowns might be justified.

Lecture 03
The context-dependency of lockdown measures

Vlasta Sikimić (U. Tübingen)

Date:  Thursday, 20 May 2021, 4pm CET
Different security measures such as the control of social media content and data collection may limit individual freedom. More generally, one can say that there is a constant tension between freedom and security. When it comes to lockdown measures, historically there have been examples of their serious abuse and they often negatively resonate in public. In the Kantian tradition the limit of individual freedom is the freedom of others, while in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, persuasive arguments are provided that the health protection of many people outweighs individual freedom. On the other hand, economic, psychological, and also physical, e.g., orthopedic problems, are significant side effects of strict lockdown measures. For these reasons, I will argue that lockdown measures should always be analyzed in their particular context. As an example, the current measures are dependent on the local circumstances and the socio-economic status of a county. Finally, I will conclude by emphasizing that there is an important tension between the context-dependency of lockdown measures and the coordinated response to global threats such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lecture 04
Lockdowns and Philosophy

Date:  Wednesday, 15 December 2021, 10am CET