November 24, 2020

What role does Aristotle’s theory of Human Nature play during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Our hon’ble Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi announced a complete lockdown for 21 Days in the country due to the deadly outbreak of Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) on 24th March, 2020.[1] This has affected the public at large and especially the daily wage workers since this has left many delivery services and vendors of essential services unprepared, leading to confusion and clashes between police and their staff in many areas.[2] They can do nothing but sit at homes as anyone can be found infected out there. After the announcement of the lockdown suddenly, the spark of panic spread widely amongst the general public and people rushed to various places for various purposes; this continued for the next and the first day of lockdown which was followed by the Police brutality on the migrant workers who were their way home.[3] This is what pushed the student to relate it with the theories given by Aristotle.

Human being possesses a unique capacity for moral choice and reasoned speech. Not only reason distinguished humans from other social species, but they alone had a perception of good and evil, right and wrong, just and unjust, implying that these faculties could be developed only in company with others, not in isolation.[4] What is important to note is, individuals could cultivate reasoned speech and moral choice with a view to achieving their full potential; the absence of these qualities would mean that human beings were worse off than animals.[5] Aristotle asserted that education was an effective way to produce political unity and for him, education was more than merely acquiring skills and common beliefs as it symbolized a way of life.[6]

The aforementioned philosophy of Aristotle can be related to today’s condition in our country. He says that humans would be worse off than animals if they wouldn’t have the capabilities to cultivate reason and speech. This quality is highly needed today. One can easily come across various incidents of people deliberately infecting people around themselves by coughing or spitting.[7] Not only this, but we also come across news articles which clearly shows how the citizens of our nation are violating the laws which have been invoked not for anything but for the protection of the citizens themselves. Many FIRs have been lodged and people are beaten because they think that since they are not infected, they can roam around freely.[8]

These are all the examples of the absence of reason or the moral choices which Aristotle talks about. He says that “if he be without virtue, he is an unholy savage being, and worse than all others are the indulgence of lust and gluttony”.[9] The line was crossed when the medical officials were attacked and harassed in Indore city of Madhya Pradesh, India.[10] Aristotle clearly states that the quality of life within a state would depend upon those who constitute it and the end they wished to pursue. But the condition clearly suggests the lack of wisdom, reasonability and moral virtues in the citizens of our country.

True it is that Aristotle explains; the desire for human company, a basic and universal human need, is so deeply entrenched that even saints and monks who otherwise renounce normal society and human relationships, form their own community! But this does not defy, in any sense, that this tendency of the people would bring them outside their homes when it is not allowed so. This activity is just opposite to a practically and wisely carried out activity.

Happiness, for Aristotle, was not a state of mind or feeling. The good, we are told, is happiness, which is an activity of the soul.[11] Happiness was attained by the exercise of two types of virtues, the ethical and the intellectual. Intellectual virtue was the knowledge of final causes and that included “practical wisdom”, whereas, the Ethical virtues involves the moral virtues which according to Aristotle, could never be taught as it was a product of right actions instilled through habit, training and discipline.

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The emphasis was to acquire excellence by doing rather than knowing the right thing. Now, one can very conveniently understand how both of these virtues have consequentially become highly substantial in times of this pandemic. Here we need the practical wisdom in order to protect ourselves as well as our friends, family and other closed ones from this deadly disease as well as we need to support, appreciate and motivate everyone and especially the frontline soldiers i.e. the medical officials and the police officials who are working day and night hard to protect the citizens of the country. Every measure taken to support the state either morally or financially in this current situation is a moral good in the words of Aristotle.

We now come to the famous doctrine of the Golden Mean. Every virtue is a mean between two extremes, each of which is a vice. This is proved by an examination of the various virtues for example Courage, Temperance, Generosity etc.[12] When we examine the present condition, we come across some societal elements who are either too confident about themselves or are too scared/frustrated regarding the condition. The police are compelled to take strict action against those who think they are safe and can roam around easily.[13] Whereas, on the other hand there are people who are highly frustrated and scared of the current scenario that some have even committed suicides.[14] This is where it can be compared that somewhere it has to be a balance in order to maintain harmony amongst the lives of the people. And this is where Aristotle says that, the middle path, or the via media, was the one to be established as the general rule of right conduct and moral virtue.

This makes very clear that in this time where the humanity as it grave risk, we have to be ideal in ourselves and make the best out of whatever we have. We can fight it with grace and dignity!

References

[1] India will be under complete lockdown for 21 days: Narendra Modi. 24th March, 2020. The Economic Times. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-will-be-under-complete-lockdown-starting-midnight-narendra-modi/articleshow/74796908.cms. Date of Access: 25th March, 2020.

[2] Coronavirus lockdown in India: ‘Beaten and abused for doing my job’. 28th March, 2020. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52063286. Date of Access: 30th March, 2020.

[3] How India plans to put 1.3 billion people on a coronavirus lockdown. Suparna Chaudhry and Shubha Kamala Prasad. March 30, 2020. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/03/30/how-india-plans-put-13-billion-people-coronavirus-lockdown/. Date of Access: 1st April, 2020.


[4] Mukherjee, Subrata, and Sushila Ramaswamy. History of Political Thought: Plato to Marx. 2nd ed., PHI Learning, 2019.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Supra Note 4 at 115.

[7] Jackie Solo. Man, with coronavirus spits in train passenger’s face, then drops dead. New York Post. April 2, 2020. https://nypost.com/2020/04/02/man-with-coronavirus-spits-in-train-passengers-face-then-drops-dead/. Date of Access: April 3, 2020.

[8] Coronavirus: FIR against 66,000 people for violating lockdown, informs Delhi Police PRO. April 4th, 2020. The Economic Times. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/coronavirus-fir-against-66000-people-for-violating-lockdown-informs-delhi-police-pro/videoshow/74987912.cms. Date of Access: April 4th, 2020.

[9] Supra Note 4 at 117.

[10] Coronavirus: India doctors ‘spat at and attacked’. Vikas Pandey. April 3rd, 2020. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52151141. Date of Access: April 4th, 2020.


[11] Russel, Bertrand. History of Western Philosophy. Simon and Schuster, 1945.

[12] Id. at 174.

[13] Many mock govt lockdown, go roaming on roads. Times News Network. March 24th, 2020. The Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/many-mock-govt-lockdown-go-roaming-on-roads/articleshow/74784064.cms. Date of access: March 26th, 2020.


[14] Frustrated at not being able to get liquor during lockdown, 2 commit suicide in Karnataka. Press Trust of India. March 29th, 2020. India Today. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/frustrated-at-not-being-able-to-get-liquor-during-lockdown-2-commit-suicide-in-karnataka-1661060-2020-03-29. Date of Access: April 2nd, 2020.


Author Details: Pahul Wadhwa is a student at K.P Mehta School of Law, NMIMS, Mumbai.

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