Why is health difficult to define?

Pages: 11 (2747 mots) Publié le: 4 mai 2010
Why is health difficult to define? Discuss, drawing on different models of health.

Health is perhaps one of the most difficult words to define. Even after many years of discussion, philosophers, politicians, medics, and various literary critics have all struggled to set a perfect definition for it. Originating from the old English word for heal: "hael" and the even older Greek word forhealth: "hygeia" , the definition of the word health remains up to this day a crucial aspect of ones everyday life.

Indeed, determining whether or not someone is healthy is not an easy matter but it is more than necessary in order to take consequences. Health is personal, social and emotional. It touches everyone in an important way. It is crucial to realise the importance of the definition as itdefinitely has an impact on how a nation, and even a region allocates its resources. For most people health becomes a topic of interest only in its absence. This is the negative definition of health. The positive definition of health is much different. It is viewed as a capacity, an optimistic view, where health is a state of well-being. The World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) shares this definitionand characterises health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity".(1946). Although the definition sounds good and complete, many critics such as professor Niyi Awofeso argue that the W.H.O. definition of health is "utopian, inflexible, and unrealistic, and that including the word 'complete' in the definition makes it highlyunlikely that anyone would be healthy for a reasonable period of time."

Descartes, the father of modern philosophy interestingly mentions illness and health in his pursuite to prove that the mind is seperate from the body aswell. likens philosophy to a form of therapy that can treat the mind's illnesses (those that stand in the way of its happiness), just as medicine treats the illnesses of thebody. As he writes in one of his earliest recorded remarks, "I use the term ‘vice’ to refer to the diseases of the mind, which are not so easy to recognize as diseases of the body. This is because we have frequently experienced sound bodily health, but have never known true health of the mind" (AT X 215/CSM I 3). Philosophy is thus charged with leading us to "true health of the mind," which it doesthrough the cultivation of "true and sound judgment." It is significant that Descartes--again in agreement with the ancients--focuses his efforts on the happiness that can be realized within the natural life of a human being.

Nevertheless, when one is asked to define health it is safe to say that many different points arise. As said before, some believe that it is a general sense ofwell-being. Some define it as being the lack of illness. Others feel as though health should remain strictly around one's personal diet. But how far can you go with these definitions? In fact, the list of definitions is very general and probably never ending. Mildred Blaxter [i] tries to set a clear understanding of the concept of Health in his book, 'Health and Lifestyles' (1900). He efficiently expresseshis ideas about the multifaceted nature of health in the context of how they developed over the last century. Amongst many others, he discusses and puts forward the many different perceptions that exist and the confusions that come up.

So why are there so many different views and what influences them? It is important to realise that; women perceive certain situations differently to men, thatpeople in a developing country might react differently to those in the United Kingdom. A teenager would see health as "eating the right things" and "being fit" [ii] whereas an elderly person would see health as being more about "wholeness or integrity, inner strength and ability to cope" [iii]. The working class man will see health as more functional "getting through the day and not being ill"...
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