Bioethics 30 (1):8-18 (2016)

The discussion about theories of health has recently had an important new input through the work of Sridhar Venkatapuram. He proposes a combination of Lennart Nordenfelt's holistic theory of health and Martha Nussbaum's version of the capability approach. The aim of the present article is to discuss and evaluate this proposal. The article starts with a discussion of Nordenfelt's theory and evaluates Venkatapuram’ critique of it, that is, of its relativism, both regarding goals and environment, and of the subjectivist theory of happiness used. Then the article explains why Nordenfelt's idea of a reasonable environment is not a problem for the theory, and it critiques Venkatapuram's own incorporation of the environment into the concept of health, suggesting that this makes the concept too wide. It contends, moreover, that Venkatapuram's alternative theory retains a problem inherent in Nordenfelt's theory, namely, that health is conceived of as a second-order ability. It is argued that health should, instead, be defined as first-order abilities. This means that health cannot be seen as a capability, and also that health cannot be seen as a meta-capability of the kind envisioned by Venkatapuram. It is, furthermore, argued that the theory lacks one crucial aspect of health, namely, subjective wellbeing. Finally, the article tries to illustrate how health, in the suggested alternative sense, as first-order abilities, fits into Nussbaum's capability theory, since health as an ‘actuality’ is part of all the ‘combined capabilities’ suggested by Nussbaum
Keywords ability  health  Venkatapuram  capabilities  Nordenfelt  capabilties approach  subjective wellbeing
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DOI 10.1111/bioe.12223
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