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Alex Broadbent: Health as a Secondary Property

Philosophy of a Specific Discipline colloquium: Philosophy of Medicine
Prof Alex Broadbent (Johannesburg)
Prof Alex Broadbent (Johannesburg)

Organized by he Department of Theoretical Philosophy

Prof Alex Broadbent (University of Johannesburg): Health as a Secondary Property


In this paper, I argue that the debate between naturalism and normativism about health concerns not one but two issues: not only whether health facts are normative, but also whether they are objective. This distinction is not clearly drawn in the literature. Having drawn the distinction, I go on to propose a new answer to the objectivity: namely,  that health is a secondary property, like colour. The objective status of health facts is akin to the status of colour facts: mind-dependent, yet not “up to us”. This framework permits the naturalist (specifically, the biostatistical theorist) about health to defuse the main lines of objection pressed by the normativist—in particular, the claim that there is no basis in biology for the reference classes to which biostatistical theory appeals.

By conceding that health facts are not objective, but rather are relational (dispositional) properties with us as relata, I am able to explain why no biological basis can be found for these reference classes, without conceding that health is a normative notion. Thus I preserve the key naturalist motivation for endorsing the view that health is objective, namely that health facts are not evaluative, while accepting that health is non-objective in a benign way (like colour) and thus neutralising the most damaging objections to naturalism.

All are welcome!

Last modified:06 June 2019 12.44 p.m.