, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 11-17
Date: 25 Aug 2006

A qualified defence of a naturalist theory of health

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The paper contrasts Lennart Nordenfelt’s normative theory of health with the naturalists’ point of view, especially in the version developed by Christopher Boorse. In the first part it defends Boorse’s analysis of disease against the charge that it falls short of its own standards by not being descriptive. The second part of the paper sets out to analyse the positive concept of health and introduces a distinction between a positive definition of health (‘health’ is not defined as absence of disease but in positive terms) and a positive conception of health (health is seen as an ideal). An objection against Nordenfelt’s account is developed by making use of a specific example of an ambitious athlete. It is stated that Nordenfelt’s conceptualisation includes too many phenomena under the umbrella of ill health. An ideal conception of health like Nordenfelt’s is in danger of supporting medicalization. In conclusion, although Nordenfelt’s theory is not altogether rejected and even seen in congruence with Boorse’s account, it is claimed that the naturalistic framework should obtain conceptual priority.