Persecutors or Victims? The Moral Logic at the Heart of Eating Disorders

Health Care Analysis 11 (3):219-228 (2003)
Abstract
Eating Disorders, particularly anorexia and bulimia, are of immense contemporary importance and interest. News stories depicting the tragic effects of eating disorders command wide attention. Almost everybody in society has been touched by eating disorders in one way or another, and contemporary obsession with body image and diet fuels fascination with this problem. It is unclear why people develop eating disorders. Clinical and sociological studies have provided important information relating to the relational systems in which eating disorders are mainly found. This paper shows that their explanations are not conclusive and points out that the reasons why people develop eating disorders should not be found in the dysfunctional interactions occurring in both familial and social systems, but in the moral beliefs that underlie these interactions. Eating disorders are impossible to understand or explain, unless they are viewed in the light of these beliefs. A moral logic, that is a way of thinking of interpersonal relations in moral terms, gives shape to and justifies the clinical condition, and finds consistent expression in abnormal eating behaviour. The analysis offered here is not mainstream either in philosophy (eating disorders are in fact seldom the subject of philosophical investigation) or in clinical psychology (the methods of philosophical analysis are in fact seldom utilised in clinical psychology). However, this paper offers a important contribution to the understanding of such a dramatic and widespread condition, bringing to light the deepest reasons, which are moral in nature, that contribute to the explanation of this complex phenomenon
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