Health and Morality: Two Conceptually Distinct Categories?

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Abstract

When seeing immoral actions, criminal or not, we sometimes deem the people who perform them unhealthy. This is especially so if the actions are of a serious nature, e.g. involving murder, assault, or rape. We turn our moral evaluation into an evaluation about health and illness. This tendency is partly supported by some diagnoses found in the DMS-IV, such as Antisocial personality disorder, and the ICD-10, such as Dissocial personality disorder. The aim of the paper is to answer the question: How analytically sound is the inclusion of morality into a theory of health? The holistic theory of Lennart Nordenfelt is used as a starting point, and it is used as an example of a theory where morality and health are conceptually distinct categories. Several versions of a pluralistic holistic theory are then discussed in order to see if, and if so, how, morality can be conceptually related to health. It is concluded that moral abilities (and dispositions) can be seen as being part of the individual's health. It is harder to incorporate moral virtues and moral actions into such a theory. However, if immoral actions “cluster” in an individual, and are of a severe kind, causing serious harm to other people, it is more likely that the person, for those reasons only, be deemed unhealthy.

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