‘mental health’ and human excellence
The paper concerns two familiar lines of inquiry. One, stemming from a neo-Aristotelian naturalism associated with Foot and others, asks whether we can derive human excellences from what humans need in order to be some way. The second asks whether (as Plato said) virtue is a kind of health, and vice a kind of illness. The first is often seen as a failure to the extent that the list of characteristics derived by this approach does not include familiar moral virtues. However, it is argued that the concept of human excellence is many-layered, so the fact that the approach may not succeed for moral virtues does not show that it is no good for anything. Moreover, the kinds of psychological characteristic derived by a liberalized version of Foot’s approach may also help to give non-trivial answers to the second, Platonic, line of inquiry.
Edward Harcourt is Fellow & Tutor in Philosophy at Keble College, Oxford. His research interests include ethics, moral psychology, and the philosophy of mental health and mental illness. He has published on, among other things, Aristotle and contemporary developmental psychology, self-knowledge, the emotions, the ethical dimensions of psychotherapy, Nietzsche’s ethics, and literature and philosophy. He is a director of Mind, Value and Mental Health: The Oxford Summer Schools in Philosophy and Psychiatry and from 2010-15 convened the Meaning and Mindedness: Encounters between Philosophy and Psychoanalysis seminars at the Tavistock Clinic, London.
virtue without excellence, excellence without health
In this paper I respond to Edward Harcourt’s suggestion that human excellences are structured in a way that allows us to see the multiplicity of life-forms that can be instantiated by different groups of excellences. I accept this layered (as he calls it) model, but suggest that Harcourt’s proposal is not pluralistic enough and offer three critical points. First, true pluralism would need to take a life-cycle view, thus taking into account plurality within, as well as between, lives. Second, Harcourt’s pluralism still posits physical health as a requirement for excellence, whereas I claim that the challenges of illness give more, not less, opportunity for excellence. Third, I make a more general claim that in certain salient cases (illness being one of them) it is precisely the absence of excellence that can facilitate virtue.
Havi Carel is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Bristol, where she also teaches medical students. Her research examines the experience of illness and of receiving healthcare. She was recently awarded a Senior Investigator Award by the Wellcome Trust, for a five year project entitled ‘Life of Breath’ (with Prof Jane Macnaughton, Durham University). She recently completed a monograph for Oxford University Press, provisionally entitled Phenomenology of Illness. She previously published on the embodied experience of illness, wellbeing within illness and patient-clinician communication in the Lancet, BMJ, Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, Medicine, Healthcare and Philosophy, and in edited collections.
8 - 10 July 2016
School of English, Communication and Philosophy
John Percival Building
Cardiff CF10 3EU
future joint sessions
2017 joint session:
7 - 9 july 2017
2018 joint session:
2019 joint session:
Visit our Future Joint Sessions page for further information.
The inaugural address and symposia for the Joint Session are published in the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume, which is published digitally and in hardcover every June. The Supplementary Volume is sent to subscribing members of the Society in categories 4 and 5.
Members in other categories can purchase the hardcover Supplementary Volume from the Online Shop. Volumes will also be available at the registration desk during the conference.
The hardcover volume is printed in black on an 80gsm white book wove stock accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Binding is in dark blue Arbelave Library Buckram over 2500 micron boards blocked in gold on the spine. This makes for a strong, attractive and durable book with a scuff resistant and wipeable cover.
2015 joint session:
10 - 12 july 2015
2014 joint session:
11 - 13 july 2014
2013 joint session:
12 - 14 july 2013
Subscribing members receive online access to the Proceedings from 2000 to the most current issue.
Subscribing members also receive the bound, hardcover volume of the latest Proceedings through the post.