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The concept of health: beyond normativism and naturalism


Dr Richard P. Hamilton
School of Philosophy and Theology
School of Medicine
University of Notre Dame Australia
Fremantle, Western Australia, 6159


Philosophical discussions of health and disease have traditionally been dominated by a debate between normativists, who hold that health is an inescapably value-laded concept and naturalists, such as Christopher Boorse, who believe that it is possible to derive a purely descriptive or theoretical definition of health based upon biological function. In this paper I defend a distinctive view which traces its origins in Aristotle's naturalistic ethics. An Arisotelian would agree with Boorse that health and disease are ubiquitous features of the natural world and thus not mere projections of human interests and values. She would differ from him in rejecting the idea that value is a non-natural quality. I conclude my discussion with some comments of the normative character of living systems.