Concepts of health and disease in public health

Authored by: Benjamin Smart

The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Public Health

Print publication date:  October  2022
Online publication date:  October  2022

Print ISBN: 9781138938823
eBook ISBN: 9781315675411
Adobe ISBN:


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Given that notions of health and disease ground the practices of all medical sciences, it is unsurprising that analyzing these concepts has always been a core component of philosophy of medicine. Christopher Boorse, Rachel Cooper, Jerome Wakefield, and many others have written papers discussing the nature of disease, but all of these focus on the domains of clinical medicine and pathology. Some work on the philosophy of public health has been published, but there remains little in the way of analysis of health and disease in the public health context. Using the four ontological categories of “public” and “health” identified by Harry Nijhuis and Laurent van der Maesen, I identify a number of context-dependent analyses of health and disease, applying them to health/disease both at the level of the individual organisms that make up “the public,” and at the level of the collective; that is, I propose a notion of health that can be applied to a population as a collective, over the individuals that comprise the collective.

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