Original Article

Health Care Analysis

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 303-314

First online:

Conceptualising Health: Insights from the Capability Approach

  • Iain LawAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Birmingham Email author 
  • , Heather WiddowsAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Birmingham

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This paper suggests the adoption of a ‘capability approach’ to key concepts in healthcare. Recent developments in theoretical approaches to concepts such as ‘health’ and ‘disease’ are discussed, and a trend identified of thinking of health as a matter of having the capability to cope with life’s demands. This approach is contrasted with the WHO definition of health and Boorse’s biostatistical account. We outline the ‘capability approach’, which has become standard in development ethics and economics, and show how existing work in those areas can profitably be adapted to healthcare. Cases are used to illustrate the value of adopting a capability approach.


Capability approach Health Disease Illness Definition of health Concepts in healthcare