David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 17 (4) (1996)
In the discussion of such social questions as how should alcoholics be treated by society? and what kind of people are responsible in the face of the law?, is disease a value-free or value-laden notion, a natural or a normative one? It seems, for example, that by the utterance alcoholism should be classified as a disease we mean something like the following: the condition called alcoholism is similar in morally relevant respects to conditions that we uncontroversially label diseases, and therefore we have a moral obligation to consider alcoholism a disease. So there are grounds to think that, in the discussion of social questions, our concept of disease is strongly value-laden. However, it does not follow that the medical concept of disease is likewise value-laden. In this paper I distinguish between the medical and social concepts of disease, arguing that the naturalist-normativist debate is concerned with the former, but not the latter. Therefore, we need not settle the naturalist-normativist debate in order to conclude that the social concept of disease is value-laden.
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