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Title: The being and value of health
Author: Werkhoven, Sander
ISNI:       0000 0004 5367 9758
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2014
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The principle aim of this thesis is to provide an account of the nature of health. The starting-point is that health is a normative concept: health implies a standard or norm in relation to which an organism’s state is evaluated. Many philosophers take this to imply that health must be defined in subjective terms. They either think health consists in a certain type of subjective experience (e.g. Canguilhem, Fulford), or that health is relative to subjective values and goals (e.g. Nietzsche, Korsgaard, Nordenfelt). I argue that subjective definitions of health fail to capture the essential properties of health and attempt to show that health is something normative and yet entirely objective. This would imply that there are normative facts in the world, and to support this claim I turn to debates in contemporary meta-ethics. I develop a meta-ethical theory according to which a subset of non-moral goods is grounded in objective features of living beings, and argue that this meta-ethical theory opens the possibility for an objective account of health. I then proceed to develop a theory of health that aims to capture what it means for any living to be healthy. I argue that the concept of health latches onto organisms’ capacities (or dispositions): the greater an organism’s range of capacities (or quantity of dispositions), i.e. the more it is capable of doing, the healthier it is. The norm relative to which an organism’s range of capacities is measured in evaluations of health, I go on to argue, is the maximum range of capacities possible for the species. Accordingly, an organism is healthy if it is capable of performing all species-specific activities. A closer analysis of this claim yields the formal definition that health consists in a multiplicity of potential activity vis-à-vis factual limitations set by the species. This definition of health is defended against various objections and potential counterexamples. In the context of human health, I attempt to show this definition of health captures both physical and mental dimensions of health; that it establishes a direct link between health and individual autonomy; and that it supports a Nietzschean account of ‘the greathealth’—the idea that being able to give up the concern for one’s health constitutes a superior kind of health. In the conclusions, I reflect on whether this conception of health could function as an ethical ideal, and consider the form that a health-based ethics could take.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council ; University of Warwick
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: B Philosophy (General)