Despite being out of academia for several months now, I occasionally get invitations from academic book publishers to review book proposals and book manuscripts in ethics and political philosophy. Here’s a book proposal that somehow found its way to me:
Call “disease moralism” the thesis that disease outbreaks result from people’s moral failures. Disease moralism so defined need not mean that bad behavior magically causes disease, but rather than that morally bad behavior creates the conditions which spread disease. Moralism also usually includes moral prescriptions as solutions for the disease. …
Now we know many diseases are caused by viruses, bacteria, or other microscopic infectious agents. But that does not mean moralism is behind us. Consider the moralism that accompanied the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s. And, of course, we see rampant moralism today regarding COVID-19. Many people say they would be ashamed to admit they were infected, as they expect to be judged and condemned. “Oh, you’re sick? Well, I guess you weren’t being careful. You probably spread it to others, too.”
Now we know.
Regrettably, I recommended rejection:
Author’s proposal involves a false alternative that regards the germ theory of disease as incompatible with human culpability for the spread of germs while asserting, offhandedly, that culpability for the spread of germs is somehow impossible. Author’s assertion notwithstanding, germs may cause disease, but moral agents can be co-causes of disease by culpably spreading the germs that cause the disease.
Consider Author’s own example, ‘the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s.’ AIDS is, to be sure, caused by HIV, but HIV can culpably be spread by failure to practice safe sex, by refusal to disclose one’s HIV+ status to an unwitting sex partner, or even by deceiving one’s sex partner about one’s HIV+ status in order maliciously to spread the disease. Something similar applies, mutatis mutandis, to Author’s off-hand and ill-informed claims about COVID. Author’s failure to make elementary distinctions, or consider obvious facts, seems to render his/her thesis implausible from the outset, and render the book proposal pointless and without discernible interest.
Probably the easiest reviewer fee I’ve made in awhile. And this at a time when I could use the money–to buy books worth reading, for instance.