What the plague tells me and what it can’t: Moral lessons from two novels

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Philosophy Department

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Research Article

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Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia

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This article turns to Jack London’s and Albert Camus’ novels about contagion to try to tease out some of the moral meanings of the pandemic we are currently living through. In many ways, these works are prescient, and can thus serve as commentary on the situation we find ourselves in. In others, their narratives differ from each other and from our experience; the differences signal what is at stake in some of our circumstances. Camus’ ideal of solidarity focuses my discussion. I show how certain conditions associated with an outbreak provide occasions for solidarity, but also examine several obstacles to it. Many of those obstacles, I contend, have to do with the limitations on what we can know – about ourselves, one another, and the world. In the end, I argue that complete solidarity may require us to reconceive our relationship to our communal past and the natural world.

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