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The Medicalization of Love and Narrow and Broad Conceptions of Human Well-Being


Would a “medicalization” of love be a “good” or “bad” form of medicalization? In discussing this question, Earp, Sandberg, and Savulescu primarily focus on the potential positive and negative consequences of turning love into a medical issue. But it can also be asked whether there is something intrinsically regrettable about medicalizing love. It is argued here that the medicalization of love can be seen as an “evaluative category mistake”: it treats a core human value (love) as if it were mainly a means to other ends (viz. physical health and hedonic well-being). It is also argued that Earp et al’s closing argument (that a scientific perspective on love actually adds more value to love) can be seen as involving another evaluative category mistake: it treats an object of desire and practical interest (namely, love) as if it mainly were an object of scientific contemplation and theoretical interest. It is concluded that, to relate love to health and well-being in a more satisfying way, we should construe the latter two in broader ways, whereby love is itself a component or element of human flourishing.

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2. Savulescu J, Sandberg A. Neuroenhancement of love and marriage. Neuroethics 2008;1(1):3144.

3. Persson I, Savulescu J. Unfit for the Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2012, at 120.

4. See note 2, Savulescu, Sandberg 2008, at 42.

5. Quoted in Parens E. On good and bad forms of medicalization. Bioethics 2011;27(1):28–35, at 33.

6. Earp BD, Sandberg A, Savulescu J. The medicalization of love. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2015;24(3):323–36.

7. See note 5, Parens 2011.

8. Fisher H. Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. New York: Henry Holt; 2014.

9. Earp BD, Wudarczyk OA, Sandberg A, Savulescu J. If I could just stop loving you: Anti-love biotechnology and the ethics of a chemical breakup. The American Journal of Bioethics 2013:217, at 7.

10. See note 6, Earp et al. 2015, at 325.

11. See note 2, Savulescu, Sandberg 2008, at 34.

12. See note 6, Earp et al. 2015, at 326–31.

13. See note 6, Earp et al. 2015.

14. See note 5, Parens 2011, at 2.

15. Scanlon TM. What We Owe to Each Other. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 1998, at 99.

16. See note 15, Scanlon 1998.

17. Mill JS. Utilitarianism. In: Robson JM, ed. Collected Works of John Stuart Mill. Toronto: University of Toronto Press; 1963:203–59.

18. Cf. Book 1 of a work by Marcus Tullio Cicero: Cicero MT. On Duties. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1991.

19. See note 6, Earp et al. 2015, at 332.

20. See note 6, Earp et al. 2015, at 332–333.

21. I discuss this last point at greater length in Nyholm S. Love troubles: Human attachment and biomedical enhancements. Journal of Applied Philosophy 2015;32(2):190–202.

22. Seligman M. Flourish. New York: Free Press; 2011.

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25. See note 24, Nussbaum 2011. Cf. Nussbaum M. Human functioning and social justice. Political Theory 1992;20:202–46.

26. Protasi S. Loving people for who they are (even when they don’t love you back). European Journal of Philosophy; forthcoming.

27. Kolodny N. Love as valuing a relationship. Philosophical Review 2003;112(2):135–89.

28. See note 21, Nyholm 2015.

Thanks to Brian Earp and Ben Bramble for helpful discussion, and also to the participants of a workshop on practical ethics at the University of Graz, where a draft of this article was presented.

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Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
  • ISSN: 0963-1801
  • EISSN: 1469-2147
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