Spring 2022

Seminar: Just Human Health

Listed in: Philosophy, as PHIL-459


Jyl Gentzler (Section 01)


Citizens of the United States are currently engaged in heated debates about access to health care. Is it okay that some of us find it much easier than others to access quality health care that can save our lives? How much access do any of us have a right to? These debates have been informed by our understanding of what a just society guarantees for its different members as well as our understanding of how a just society distributes advantages and burdens among its members when all needs cannot be met. These debates are also informed by our understanding of the nature of health and its value to our lives, as well as our understanding of how different people are responsible for their own health and that of others. Recent research and scholarship have challenged the common view that access to health care is the most relevant factor in determining health outcomes. In particular, recent research has suggested that in addition to access to health care, the following factors play a significant role in our long-term health: our relative status in the groups to which we belong; our access to loving parents, partners, family members, and friends; our access to challenging, stimulating, and inclusive education; our sense of safety in our homes and neighborhoods; our access to meaningful work and engaging play; among other things.

Recent research in philosophy has also challenged our assumptions about the most reasonable principles for determining whether certain actions, policies, or emotional dispositions are just or unjust. Putting all of these considerations and observations together, we as scholars are faced with the challenge of providing justified answers to the questions: Do we have any obligation of justice to protect the health of others? If so, in which cases and why? To answer these questions, we will explore and assess recent philosophers’ efforts to understand the general nature of our obligations to one another, the various situations of privilege and disadvantage that we humans experience in relation to one another, and the effects of these relations on our long term health. We will then apply our best understanding of the nature of justice to particular cases to determine whether a given health disparity is a matter of justice, or instead, of good or bad fortune that no one has a moral obligation to change.

Requisite: Two courses in philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Professor Gentzler

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: emphasis on written work, readings, independent research, oral presentations, group work. Students with documented disabilities who will require accommodations in this course should be in consultation with Accessibility Services and reach out to the faculty member as soon as possible to ensure that accommodations can be made in a timely manner.


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Spring 2022