The concepts of health and illness revisited

  • Lennart NordenfeltEmail author


Contemporary philosophy of health has been quite focused on the problem of determining the nature of the concepts of health, illness and disease from a scientific point of view. Some theorists claim and argue that these concepts are value-free and descriptive in the same sense as the concepts of atom, metal and rain are value-free and descriptive. To say that a person has a certain disease or that he or she is unhealthy is thus to objectively describe this person. On the other hand it certainly does not preclude an additional evaluation of the state of affairs as undesirable or bad. The basic scientific description and the evaluation are, however, two independent matters, according to this kind of theory.

Other philosophers claim that the concept of health, together with the other medical concepts, is essentially value-laden. To establish that a person is healthy does not just entail some objective inspection and measurement. It presupposes also an evaluation of the general state of the person. A statement that he or she is healthy does not merely imply certain scientific facts regarding the person’s body or mind but implies also a (positive) evaluation of the person’s bodily and mental state.

My task in this paper will be, first, to present the two principal rival types of theories and present what I take to be the main kind of reasoning by which we could assess these theories, and second, to present a deeper characterization of the principal rival theories of health and illness.


biostatistical theory of health disease health holistic theory of health illness medicine values 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Health and SocietyLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden

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