Health as an ethical framework?

Sorry for the clunky title, wasn’t sure what to call this thread. I wanted to discuss something I have repeatedly observed during debates with people both online and offline—the tendency to treat what is healthy as ethical.

I have seen quite a lot of people who decide what they should, or should not be doing, based entirely on what is healthy for them. Not only that, but I have seen people arguing that others should also, always, invariably do whatever is healthiest. Basically putting health on a pedestal and elevating it to the point that it is the only factor worth considering when deciding what to do or not do.

As an example; I have seen people on both sides of the vegetarian debate using health as a platitude. Something like “You should not be a vegetarian because it’s less healthy,” or “You should not eat meat because it is less healthy.”

Which are perfectly valid arguments if you’re having a debate about health—but I have repeatedly seen these argument thrown in the face of people who decide to eat meat, or not eat meat, based on factors other than health. Trying to convince an ethical vegetarian to eat meat because it’s healthy is an odd argument to make, in my opinion, because it’s missing the entire point of their vegetarianism. The inverse is true as well—trying to convince someone who eats a meat-based diet because they enjoy it, to skip meat because it’s healthy, it once again putting health above all other factors.

Vegetarianism/meat isn’t the only place I’ve seen this kind of reasoning applied to, either. I have seen it applied to celibacy, for example. People will argue that “Abstinence before marriage isn’t healthy,” or that “Polyamory/open relationships aren’t healthy!” As if health is the primary factor that drives people do decide what kind of relationship they want to pursue. It seems very reductive to tell someone to put aside their romantic feelings or religious convictions simply because the thing you want them to do is healthier.

I’ve even seen this argument applied to forgiveness before. A victim of a violent crime said he forgave his attacker, and there were comments angrily berating him because, in their words, forgiving people is less healthy. Never-mind the fact that, once again, health was not his motivation. Rather, he was trying to uphold the teachings of his religion.

This idolization of health seems very strange to me. It appears in my eyes as an attempt to reduce all the various things that motivate human actions down into a single, easy-to-argue category. I don’t think it actually reflects how human beings decide what to think or do at all.

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