Concepts of plant health – reviewing and challenging the foundations of plant protection




Plant health is a frequently used but ill-defined term. However, there is an extensive literature on general health definitions and health criteria in human medicine. Taking up ideas from these philosophical debates, concepts of plant health are reviewed and a framework developed to locate these concepts according to their position in several philosophical controversies. In particular, (i) the role of values in defining plant health in a naturalist versus a normativist approach; (ii) negative and positive definitions of plant health; (iii) reductionist versus holistic perspectives; (iv) the focus on functionality versus resilience, i.e. the ability of the plant to perform under stress with or without human interference; (v) materialist versus vitalist approaches; and (vi) biocentric versus anthropocentric views, are surveyed. The ways in which these perspectives relate to mainstream and alternative approaches to plant protection are explored and we suggest how the contradicting views might be reconciled. It is argued that none of these perspectives is without inherent contradictions, but that by combining contrasting approaches it is possible to provide a comprehensive though fuzzy concept. Rather than giving a new definition of plant health, a conceptual framework is developed that suggests what questions may be answered in debates on plant health issues and how such debates could be organized.