Locating Health in the Human Subject: How the Philosophical Anthropology of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas can help both Patients and Doctors
Fr. Raymund Snyder, O.P., STB/MDiv and PhL (Licentiate in Philosophy), Adjunct Lecturer, Pontifical College Josephinum
This paper will argue that the recovery of a more classical vision of the human person can greatly aid the practice of medicine. In particular, a few key principles from the accounts of human nature offered by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas will be put forward. For Aristotle, “health” admits of a variety of meanings. Though we call certain causes or signs of health “healthy”, health in the living subject is the primary and proper instance of health. For Aristotle and St. Thomas, the human being is a composite of body and soul. The soul gives unity to the body and enlivens its vital operations as the first principle of actuality. It is to this matter-form composite that health belongs properly speaking. Furthermore, Aristotle claims that nature acts “always and for the most part” and so health should be seen as the normative condition of all living subjects including human beings. Disease or illness is not a subsistent reality, rather a privation and ought to be understood as dependent on the more fundamental notion of the thriving healthy subject. The successful practice of medicine therefore is aimed primarily at the promotion of health and only secondarily in the removal of illness. Doctors can encourage their patients to take hold of the most proximate causes of health such as sleep, diet, and physical activity and look to healthcare as assisting and promoting the health which properly belongs to them. Patients, in turn, can be empowered by understanding themselves principally as subjects of health in whom health properly resides and only secondarily as bearers of diseases and illness.