September 1 - Philosophical, Not an Empirical Question

At the beginning it should be said - the first of September is par excellence a philosophical, not an empirical question. I completely agree with Žižek: this is a time of disoriented people, a "philosophical time", a time of thinking about where and how to go next, not in an empirical technical-organizational sense, but in terms of changing the essence of the social contract, locally, nationally and globally. The so-called “New normal” is here, whether we want to accept it or not.

I will mention two theories of political philosophy in the way that Hamada (Yale University) recently did, otherwise an advisor (at a distance) to the Japanese Prime Minister Abe, and which will help us reach the solution we are looking for.

I Utilitarianism

The utilitarianism of the Scottish philosopher Jeremy Bentham is simply recapitulated by something resembling the slogan: "an action is morally right if it serves the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people." For Bentham, happiness is what bringspleasureas opposed topain.On this occasion, I only mention a more sophisticated version of the utilitarianism of Bentham's successor, John Stuart Mill.

The difficulty of operationalization is one of the problems of utilitarianism. To be brutally pictorialthere is a well-known proverb in our nation – the one with the knife has the bread- it is known that politics based on utilitarianism easily mutates into something that is not essentially it - to use the metaphor again, "moral is what serves the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people on Wall Street." In other words, everything enters the calculation of "greater happiness", everything has its price, among other things, human life.

In a brief digression, I will mention the Ford company, which launched the Pinto in the mid-1970s under pressure from Japanese car competition. The model had a "fatal error": in the case of a rear-end collision, the risk of self-immolation and fatal consequences was above average compared to similar models. Ford's management applies a cost-benefit analysis and concludes that it is more favorable for the company to "change nothing" and to "compensate for the damage" in cases when there is a dispute in court. In that estimate, in dollars from that period, human life reached the amount of about 200 thousand.

In a study done for the Government of the Czech Republic in 1999-2001, Philip Morris went a step further and concluded that smoking is useful for the Czech budget and pension funds because it is expected that smokers will die earlier and thus relax the pension and health budget, as well as the part of the budget intended for care for the elderly, financing nursing homes and the like.

As I write this article, the Daily Mail published a report on a study led by the former governor of the UK's Central bank, based on which it can be concluded that the economic costs of the state of emergency in Britain are far greater than the "benefits" of saving almost half a million lives, starting from the calculation that one year of life is worth about £ 30,000 (?)

Of course there is also a critic of utilitarianism. From the highest place, I would mention Michael Sandel, a professor of political philosophy and the author of the first course at Harvard which became available online - Justice. The title of his book "What Money Can't Buy" speaks for itself.

Let’s get back to the topic finally. For example, how does a parent think before the start of the school year? In a thought experiment, we assume that the parent is a "utilitarian." In addition, suppose that the child / student does not belong to the risk group, which is the case for the vast majority of young people, that in the immediate family there are no "risky" members, as in the immediate environment, so we can expect parents to be in favor of schooling as even before the pandemic, and starting from the utilitarian mantra "greater happiness for a larger number of people" (in the Serbian version - "life must continue"). 

II Theory of Justice and the Veil of Ignorance by Harvard professor John Rawls

The concept of "Veil of Ignorance" is not new, it appears in Kant, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson, but Professor Rawls has promoted it in recent times. Namely, in order to make a morally correct decision, especially in times of crisis in which there are no possibilities for experiments or they are very expensive, it is necessary to exclude, as much as possible, subjectivity, our emotions and prejudices. We make a decision behind a veil of ignorance, which means that, at the moment of decision-making, we know everything about the specific situation, but not how we are involved in it, what is our specific position in it.

In our thought experiment, this would mean that the parent, at the time of deciding whether classes should continue on September 1 in the same way as before the pandemic, does not know, for example, whether his child or someone from the immediate family and immediate environment belongs to the risk group. I claim that parents "behind the veil of ignorance" will definitely be against the physical departure of the child to school (including the use of public transport). Such a decision is contrary to the decision of the "utilitarian" parents. 


On the first of September, all agents in the process of education at school should make a morally correct decision, and this is possible, having in mind the seriousness of the situation, only if we all stand behind the veil of ignorance. However, it seems to be the most difficult and controversial - in order to decide to stand behind the veil of ignorance, you must be a conscious, mature and accomplished individual who is ready to bear the burden of responsibility for the decisions he makes. That seems to be the hardest thing - it's much easier to blame someone else for your decisions.

In one of his latest articles on the subject of the pandemic, Žižek asked the question: why are some simple things so difficult to implement? This blog article provides one possible answer to this question.

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