(a thought experiment inspired by John Rawls)
John Rawls (1921-2002) argued that we could determine just ethical principles by seeing what a free and rational people would choose if they attempted to create a just society from behind a ‘veil of ignorance’.
John Rawls proposed a famous thought-experiment in which a group of humans come together and have to devise a set of principles for their society to work by. The imaginary part of this is that the individuals doing the deciding are told that there will be some people of greater and lesser intelligence, greater and lesser degrees of health, greater and lesser pigment in their skin, ability to lead, to follow, to carve wood, to care for babies, etc etc – in other words, these people would represent a reasonable cross-section of the types found in human society. However, the deciding individuals did not know which attributes they themselves possessed...
This ‘veil of ignorance’ Rawls thought would ensure a just distribution of rights and duties in his hypothetical society – just as if you were in charge of cutting up a pizza to share and only knowing that you would get the last piece: you would do your best to cut it equally. (“Deontological Ethics.” http://www.sevenoaksphilosophy.org/ethics/deontology.html)
Rawls thought that people would likely agree to things that would benefit the population no matter their situation: freedom of speech; a limited role for a government influenced by or answerable to the people; an equitable social system wherein people have equal opportunity, access to resources; a system that encourages virtue, etc.
This veil of ignorance would make people aware that that they could be among the disadvantaged or marginalized, and they would want to make laws that would protect them if they were one of the weaker members of society and not punish them if they were one of the stronger.
With that foundation in mind, let’s apply that idea to COVID-19.