On the classification of diseases.

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Theoretical medicine and bioethics, ISSN: 1573-0980, Vol: 35, Issue: 4, Page: 251-69

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Smart, Benjamin
Springer Nature, Springer
Nursing, Medicine
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article description
Identifying the necessary and sufficient conditions for individuating and classifying diseases is a matter of great importance in the fields of law, ethics, epidemiology, and of course, medicine. In this paper, I first propose a means of achieving this goal, ensuring that no two distinct disease-types could correctly be ascribed to the same disease-token. I then posit a metaphysical ontology of diseases-that is, I give an account of what a disease is. This is essential to providing the most effective means of interfering with disease processes. Following existing work in the philosophy of medicine and epidemiology (primarily Christopher Boorse; Caroline Whitbeck; Alexander Broadbent), philosophy of biology (Joseph LaPorte; D.L. Hull), conditional analyses of causation (J.L. Mackie; David Lewis), and recent literature on dispositional essentialism (Stephen Mumford and Rani Anjum; Alexander Bird), I endorse a dispositional conception of disease. Following discussion of various conceptions of disease-identity, their relations to the clinical and pathological effects of the diseases in question, and how diseases are treated, I conclude (i) that diseases should be individuated by their causes, and (ii) that diseases are causal processes best seen as simultaneously acting sequences of mutually manifesting dispositions.

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