Health Care Analysis

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 208–223 | Cite as

Instrumentalism, Civil Association and the Ethics of Health Care: Understanding the “Politics of Faith”

  • Peter R. Sedgwick
Original Article


This paper offers critical reflection on the contemporary tendency to approach health care in instrumentalist terms. Instrumentalism is means-ends rationality. In contemporary society, the instrumentalist attitude is exemplified by the relationship between individual consumer and a provider of goods and services. The problematic nature of this attitude is illustrated by Michael Oakeshott’s conceptions of enterprise association and civil association. Enterprise association is instrumental; civil association is association in terms of an ethically delineated realm of practices. The latter offers a richer ethical conception of the relation between person and society than instrumentalism does. Oakeshott’s conception is further illustrated by reflection on the connection between morality and religion that he explores in an early essay concerning “religious sensibility”. Religious sensibility turns on the acknowledgement of the vulnerability of the self to the vicissitudes of life. This vulnerability cannot be bargained over instrumentally without imperilling the self. Religious sensibility is thus a valuable resource for criticising instrumentalist attitudes. It allows for the cultivation of ethical self-understanding that is essential to comprehending the conditions in virtue of which genuine civil life is possible. These conditions need to be taken into account in health care. Health care is not simply about substantive wants. It also necessarily concerns the universal and constant condition of being prey to illness that is the common lot of all citizens.


Oakeshott Faith Health care Instrumentalism Civil association Enterprise association 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ENCAP, Cardiff UniversityCardiffUK

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