Towards a theory of health and illness

Lennart Nordenfelt

in Rationality and Compulsion

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print April 2007 | ISBN: 9780199214853
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754517 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Towards a theory of health and illness

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My task in this section has been to scrutinize the notion of mental action and mental ability with, in the end, the notion of mental health in mind. As a guide for analysis, I have then used my own general notion of health that is formulated in terms of a person's ability to realize vital goals. I have noted that the universe of mental intentional actions is not very large. It seems therefore implausible to base the notions of mental health and mental disorder on the idea of a person's ability (or inability) to perform intentional mental actions. The primary category to be targeted by such a notion would be abilities or inabilities to think or to think coherently. But this category covers only a limited part of mental health and mental disorder.

In a second step I have tried to extend my characterization of health to deal not only with abilities to perform intentional actions but also with general propensities and possibilities with regard to entering certain states. Although such a notion would have a wider scope, including people's propensities or possibilities with regard to having a rich emotional life, it would still fall short of an all-inclusive characterization of mental health. I used the conditions of depression and anxiety as examples of mental disorders that are not covered by such a notion.

A much more plausible candidate for the characterization of mental disorder in general would therefore be that the disabilities typical for these disorders have peculiarly mental causes, for instance, the mental states of depression and anxiety.

In the study of mental disorder, later in this book, I will not attempt to give a general characterization. Instead I will focus on a crucial subcategory where irrationality and compulsion are the central notions. (For an interesting analysis of mental disorders as disorders that can be understood in terms of reasons, see Matthews 2003.)

Chapter.  8014 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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