Who cares about the ill? The moral grounds of mental health

Philosophers like to argue about our values. We can’t simply stop at empathizing with different belief and conditions of other people. We must know where those values come from in order to address the thorny ethical dilemmas that plague our lives. Dr. Agnieszka Jaworska at UC Riverside delineates various forms of moral standing in which humans help each other. And, when it comes to mental health, this sort of moral standing understanding might be just what we need.

When we ask why we care about the people we value, the answer might appear obvious. If we value something, surely we care for it on account of that value. But caring is complicated. We often care about people out of social ties, and we care about our own selves in different ways. These grounds can be emotional, like our abilities to desire, or more reason-based, such as our abilities to determine what actions and behavior we can perform. We say we should save the live of a human being instead of, for example, the life of a chicken, on the human being’s ability to reason.

A grasp of our moral standing would aid in our treatment of the mentally ill. A patient with late Alzheimer’s disease might only find him/herself with bodily needs, such as food and water. Babies and even unborn children may be subject to speculation with responsibility, autonomy, integrity, and other factors depending on their physiological structures. And caring can cover the emotional aspects we normally associate with the action. As Jaworska explains, the internalities of caring on human behavior can’t be ignored. The way we care about things gives us desires and attitudes that we don’t simply experience for a moment or two, but absolutely “own” as part of ourselves. This act of owning an attitude gives rise to the capacities of caring. And Jaworska argues that our capacities for emotion are actually enough for our grounds for the cognitive and reflexive capacities of caring. Other opinions include those who follow Kant and claim that, instead of an emotional ground, the capacity for caring comes from a reason-baed ability to form decisions. From these capacities, we can talk about those who suffer from disease (especially with mental health issues) on the right page.

This means our understanding of medicine and medical education needs this moral grounding. More power to the fields of philosophy and the rest of the humanities.

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