A theory of health and disease: the objectivist-subjectivist dichotomy

J Med Philos. 1995 Oct;20(5):513-25. doi: 10.1093/jmp/20.5.513.


Competing contemporary theories of health, the reductionist (purportedly value-free) and the relativist (purportedly value-based) theories, both rest upon an understanding of value as grounded in desiring, a subjective state. Both can be classified as subjectivist theories. An alternative set of theories, those resting on an understanding of value as grounded in desirability (or goodness) of an objective goal, can be classified as objectivist theories. The ultimate goal of all living things is life, the standard by which states or functions can be measured, and thereby defined as healthy or disease states. While disease can be classified in a taxonomy of biological dysfunctions without remainder, health is a richer concept that includes not only biological values, but also moral values, both leading to the ultimate goal of human flourishing.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health
  • Diagnosis
  • Disease*
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Motivation
  • Philosophy, Medical*
  • Social Values
  • Therapeutics