Jonathan Wolff & Pandemic Policy Ethics
Play • 1 hr 4 min

One set of ethical questions has been looming large since the start of the pandemic: 

How do we evaluate the costs and benefits that result from lockdown measures? 

Is it possible to weight the lives saved by lockdown measures against the unemployment, damage to mental health and education that they resulted in? Or are such comparisons impossible to make?  

Is there a price to human life, and if so, how do we arrive at it? 

What are the ethical principles that we should follow when making decisions under conditions of radical uncertainty? And how has the pandemic challenged our usual framework for making life and death decisions? 

Jonathan Wolff is the Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy at the University of Oxford, and was formerly Blavatnik Chair in Public Policy. 

He has been a public policy advisor on several issues, including gambling regulation, railway safety, bioethics, and at the moment he is co-char of the Working Group for ethics and governance for the Word Health Organisation -  Accelerator Covid Response. 

Jo has written about his experiences as a public policy advisor, and the lessons there are to be learned for both policy and philosophy, in his book Ethics and Public Policy: A Philosophical Enquiry.

This podcast is created in partnership with The Philosopher, the UK’s longest running public philosophy journal. The winter issue of The Philosopher is out, tackling one of philosophy’s perennial puzzles: the concept of Nothing. If you’d like to order a copy of the latest issue, and subscribe to the journal, go to

Music by Pataphysical:

Artwork by Nick Halliday:


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