Is Covid-19 a disease?

By | 13th August 2020

Let us first understand that ‘disease’, ‘illness’ and ‘infection’ are not categories that are given to us by nature. They are human moral judgements about the undesirability of the impact of certain microorganisms on ourselves, and a few favoured plant and animal species that are particularly relevant to us.

Most of the sciences that study nature do not care about the consequences of the actions of these microorganisms. Biologists use language like mutualism, parasitism or commensalism to describe symbiosis, a close relationships between species. They may help each other out, grow at another’s expense or occupy the same ecological niche without much intruding on each other. There are no moral judgements here. This is just how things are.

Medicine, however, is different. It is founded on the moral judgement that certain physical and biological states of humanity are undesirable and should be prevented, corrected, managed or regulated…

…Having locked ourselves into a particular way of thinking and acting in relation to Covid-19, it is very difficult for this to be questioned – but it must not go unchallenged if we are to balance the moral goals of medicine with the other moral goals that make up a good society.

The discussion of disease as a moral category is based on my book Aspects of Illness, first published in 1977.  It is now available in a Second Edition, first published in 2001, with a new foreword and available as a Routledge Revival.

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