4. Epidemics, Regulations, and Aristotle's Physics of Motion A Ballistic Perspective on a Current Debate

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Alessia Pannese


The current polarization in public debate surrounding governmental regulatory responses to the Covid-19 pandemic is often portrayed as conflict between individual freedom and state control. A recurrent trope has been the likening of regulation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic to the condition described in Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, where citizens forego their individual freedom in exchange for protection by a mighty sovereign. In this sense, regulations introduced in response to the current pandemic have been viewed as threatening to expand state power and limit individual freedom. Whilst recognizing that epidemic-related regulations raise issues of state control and individual freedom, and hence resonate with Hobbes’s political theory, here I suggest that the polarization in this public debate also subtends epistemic uncertainty, and struggle over the locus of authority for knowledge and the relation of knowledge to action. In this respect, Hobbes is relevant to the current pandemic-debate also (and perhaps most significantly) for his reflection on human knowledge and action. Elements of Hobbes’s understanding of knowledge, as well as of the relation between knowledge and action, imply casting the human intellect in physical terms, and in particular in terms compatible with the Aristotelian physics of natural motion. I then bring this historical point to bear upon the current debate surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, to suggest that the Hobbesian physics-inflected account of knowledge may offer a relevant—perhaps speculative, yet conceptually grounded and historically informed—perspective from which to reflect upon and responsibly assess, (dis)approve of, comply with, or challenge epidemic-related regulations.

Keywords: Epidemic, Epidemic-related regulations, Hobbes, Bacon, Aristotle, Physics


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