Letters and authors’ reply on Potential Outcomes paper published (IJE)

Two responses have now been published to the Vandenbroucke-Broadbent-Pearce paper on Potential Outcomes in IJE (Jan 2016).

We have replied to these letters (open access).

As well as this exchange of letters, the IJE has asked for some fuller commentaries on our paper, as well as our response to these commentaries. The exchange is developing in an extremely useful way, in my view, and I look forward to being able to share the next “round”, perhaps later this year.

Our original paper is here.


Paper “Health as a Secondary Property” accepted by BJPS

Subject to a few final adjustments my paper “Health as a Secondary Property” has been accepted by the British Journal of Philosophy of Science.

I’m pleased because this is my first contribution to the debate in the philosophy of medicine about the nature of health. I’m also pleased because the paper is a proving ground for some ideas that I want to develop further in my book on philosophy of medicine. And of course I’m happy because BJPS is a great journal.

It may change in minor ways, but here is the abstract. Obviously I can’t post the full paper here but if you are interested in seeing a pre-print privately, please contact me.


In the literature on health, naturalism and normativism are typically characterised as espousing and rejecting, respectively, the view that health is objective and value-free. This paper points out that there are two distinct dimensions of disagreement, regarding objectivity and value-ladenness, and thus arranges naturalism and normativism as diagonal opposites on a two by two matrix of possible positions. One of the remaining quadrants is occupied by Value-Dependent Realism, holding that health facts are value-laden and objective. The remaining one, holding that they are non-objective but value-free, is unexplored. The paper endorses a view in the latter quadrant, namely the view that health is a secondary property. The paper argues that a secondary property framework provides the resources to respond to the deepest objections to a broadly Boorsean account of natural function, and so preserves the spirit, though not the letter, of that account. Treating health as a secondary property permits a naturalistic explanation of the health concept, specifically, an evolutionary explanation, in terms of the assistance such a concept might have provided to the survival and reproduction of organisms that have it. (This approach is completely distinct from evolutionary and etiological accounts of natural function.) This provides the otherwise missing explanation in Boorse’s account for the fact that function is determined with reference to contribution to goals of survival and reproduction, assessed relative to classes comprising age of sex of species, rather than some other equally natural goals or classes.