Health as a secondary property – print version finally out

Health as a Secondary Property 

The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Volume 70, Issue 2, June 2019, Pages 609–627,

In the literature on health, naturalism and normativism are typically characterized as espousing and rejecting, respectively, the view that health is objective and value-free. This article 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 quadrant, which holds that they are non-objective but value-free, is unexplored. The article endorses a view in the latter quadrant, namely, the view that health is a secondary property. The article 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—specifically, an evolutionary explanation—of the health concept, in terms of the assistance such a concept might have provided to the survival and reproduction of those organisms that had it. (This approach is completely distinct from evolutionary and aetiological accounts of natural functions.) This provides the explanation, missing from Boorse’s account, for the fact that function is determined with reference to the contribution to the goals of survival and reproduction, relative to the age of the sex of the species, rather than some other equally natural goals or reference classes.

  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Two Ways to Disagree about Health
  • 3 Secondary Properties
  • 4 Health as a Secondary Property
  • 5 Conclusion

Musings on laws of nature

I am always puzzled by philosophical talk of laws of nature. The terms “law”, “govern”, and so forth amount to an extended metaphor drawn from human affairs, and thoroughly unnatural ones at that. It is a recurrent philosophical mistake to suppose that the most fundamental thing about the universe can only be treated with philosophical precision through a human metaphor. Without “laws”, and the corresponding but evidently false idea that it is possible to break them, contemporary metaphysics would look quite different. If you ask a philosopher whether it is possible to walk through a wall, she will say “Yes”, because only the laws “prohibit” it – even though everyone knows you can’t walk through a wall.