Thursday, July 16, 2015


Is there a good of overall health, over and beyond particular goods of health, such as having keen eyesight, being able to run fast, etc.?

Suppose you have a broken leg and you believe this was your only health problem. But then you learn that your hearing is below normal and that this cannot be cured. Before you learned this bad news, you thought that fixing the fracture would both restore the health of the leg and overall health. But after learning the bad news, you knew that fixing the fracture would restore the health of the leg but not overall health. If overall health has a value over and beyond its components, then your level of motivation should go down, since previously actions that promoted the health of the leg apparently promoted two goods, while now you see that they promote only one. Yet surely your motivations wouldn’t decrease, or they hardly would. This suggests that the good of overall health is either not a further good or at best a minor good.


Heath White said...

1. I think what the argument shows is that broken legs and poor hearing are INDEPENDENT bads. If you found out that, in addition to a broken leg, you also had a broken foot, so that even fixing the broken leg would (still) not allow you to walk properly, then your motivation to fix the broken leg might decline. (Maybe it costs a lot of money.) But one might then argue that if broken legs and poor hearing are independent bads, then there is no common good of which they are parts except perhaps in the simplistic sense of a sum.

2. What if I had two well-functioning legs but one was much longer than the other? Then *I* would not be well-functioning. If there is a good of health above and beyond goods of the parts, then it would be the goodness of how all the parts fit together or work together. It is hard to see how well-functioning legs and well-functioning hearing would have this kind of interdependence, however, which is some argument that “health” per se is not anything over and above the sum of its parts.

Alexander R Pruss said...


This is helpful, and your examples are very helpful.

The theory I am playing with is that the good of health is a mere sum of the goods of having various powers. On reflection, the broken leg and poor hearing are not entirely independent. A healthy leg and good hearing are both needed to give one the power to dance well. But it is because of the unavoidability of the loss of the power of dancing that the motivation to fix the leg goes down, not because of the unavoidability of the loss of total health.

Your final example fits into my fuller story. The actual combined good is not health as such, but the various powers that require a coordination between hearing and leg motion.