Coming home to Hume: A sociobiological foundation for a concept of 'health' and morality

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 24 (4):365 – 375 (1999)
Abstract
Assessing the normative status of concepts of health and disease involves one in questions regarding the relationship between fact and value. Some have argued that Christopher Boorse's conception of health and disease lacks such a valuational element because it cannot account for types of harms which, while disvalued, do not have evolutionarily dysfunctional consequences. I take Boorse's account and incorporate some Humean-like sociobiological assumptions in order to respond to this challenge. The possession of moral sentiments, I argue, offers an evolutionary advantage (thus falling within Boorse's definition of normal functional abilities). However, this does not amount to emotivism: on the contrary, these sentiments can be the basis of a value system. This value structure introduces the concept of sympathizing with a fellow being's suffering as the basis of a normative dimension to disease. For example, it holds the disvalue of disease to lie in the fact that disease involves suffering and functional limitations.The naturalistic Humean type of account presented here thus jumps the normative-descriptive divide. When Boorse's account is extended to include social sentiments and behaviors, a conception of health emerges which is broader than Boorse's or Kass's, but narrower than the WHO's.
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