UCL Faculty of Laws


UCL European Institute publishes blog post & video on Philosophy of Public Health and Covid-19

22 April 2020

Professor James Wilson (UCL Philosophy) discusses key philosophical public health questions and implications of the coronavirus.

Professor Wilson

The UCL European Institute has released a new video with Professor James Wilson (Professor of Philosophy at UCL Philosophy), who specialises in public health ethics. Professor Wilson explores major philosophical public health questions that are more relevant than ever after the coronavirus, including: What does it really mean to have a "human right" to health? How should states weigh the protection of health against the value of liberty and economic activity? 

In the video, Professor Wilson states:

Philosophy can make a difference to public policy-- philosophers are some of the best people to help other citizens think through ethical questions and ethical challenges.
[With coronavirus] It's never been more important for ethicists to understand the underlying science and to work across boundaries if they're to give sensible policy advice. 

Once this is all over, we will be in a radically changed political and ethical landscape. It will be much more difficult for governments to drag their feet on other systemic threats to health, such as climate change, or air pollution.

Professor Wilson has also recently finished a book, Beyond the Neglectful State, which aims to shift discussion of public health away from the fear of paternalism and the "Nanny State." In it, Professor Wilson argues that what we have most reason to fear is a state that allows people to come to harm when it could easily have prevented this. 

The video, produced with Dr Graham Riach of Oxford University, is available on the UCL European Institute website and YouTube channel. Professor Wilson has also authored a blog post on the topic of "Philosophy and public policy: Lessons from COVID-19" for the European Institute's Europe Blog.

Professor Piet Eeckhout, Dean of UCL Laws, is the Academic Director of the UCL European Institute. UCL Laws works closely with the UCL European Institute, such as through co-hosting events and facilitating research.