What does it mean to be healthy, and what does it mean for something to be a disease? Is the difference between health and disease based on the difference between being normal and being abnormal? Are the concepts of health and disease based purely on subjective values, or are there objective and value-free differences between healthy and diseased organisms? Are mental health and mental illness comparable to bodily health and disease, or do they involve completely different considerations?
These questions lie at the heart of philosophy of medicine, and they are closely connected with our understanding of living things in general: the distinction between health and disease is one that is only made for living things. This distinction has great social and political significance. For example, tremendous resources are devoted to the pursuit of health and the treatment of disease. But understanding the difference health and disease is not straightforward, and ideas about what constitutes health and what should be classified as disease vary significantly over time, between societies and cultures, and even between individuals.
This subject examines these questions about health and disease. It situates them within the broader framework of discussions of the distinctive characteristics of living things and the difference between the living world and the non-living world. It examines influential contemporary accounts of health and disease and their impact on the classification of diseases, and investigates the relationship between concepts of bodily health and mental health.
This is a seminar-style class designed to involve students from a variety of academic backgrounds. Weekly meetings are organised around discussion and careful analysis of prominent readings from contemporary and historical sources.
Philosophy of Health and Happiness is taught by Dr. Patrick McGivern, who is an expert in logic, philosophy of science, and epistemology. He has published work in journals such as Philosophy of Science and Synthese on topics such as emergence and reduction in physics, the role of modelling in theories of spacetime, and the concepts of health and disease in medicine.