Is Health the Absence of Disease?

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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While philosophical questions about health and disease have attracted much attention in recent decades, and while opinions are divided on most issues, influential accounts seem to embrace negativism about health, according to which health is the absence of disease. Some subscribe to unrestricted negativism, which claims that negativism applies not only to the concepts of health and disease as used by healthcare professionals but also to the lay concept that underpins everyday thinking. Whether people conceptualize health in this manner has implications for medical care and public health, and so we set out to examine this claim in two studies. Participants were asked to assess and compare the health states of two people presented in two vignettes. We found that both lay people and medical students conceptualize health as something more than the absence of disease. We argue that our findings highlight a need to rethink unrestricted negativism and indicate a need to rethink the way the debate has traditionally focused on disease.

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Author Profiles

Somogy Varga
Aarhus University
Andrew James Latham
Aarhus University

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