The problem of processes and transitions: are diseases phase kinds? [Book Review]

In this paper I discuss a central objection against diseases being natural kinds—namely, that diseases are processes or transitions and hence they should not be conceptualized in the ‘substantish’ framework of natural kinds. I indicate that the objection hinges on conceiving disease kinds as phase kinds, in contrast to the non-phase, natural kinds of the exact sciences. I focus on somatic diseases and argue, via a representative comparison, that if disease kinds are phase kinds, then exact science kinds are phase kinds as well. On the other hand, if exact science kinds are non-phase kinds, then disease kinds are non-phase kinds as well. This objection should thus be rejected, under a certain caveat, though. If natural kind membership has an influence over the diachronic identity of kind members, then it is possible, in principle, to draw the phase/non-phase distinction such that an ‘ontological gap’ lies between medical kinds and exact science kinds. I show further that this caveat is unavoidable even in relation to substantive universals and ‘essential’ properties—two controversial, strong features that were traditionally associated to natural kinds.
Keywords Natural kinds  Processes  Medical kinds  Phase kinds  Phases  Substantial changes  Jonathan Lowe
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DOI 10.1007/s11019-011-9316-1
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