Nosology and causal necessity; the relation betweendefining a disease and discovering its necessary cause
Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 20 (6) (1999)
The problem of disease definition is related to theproblem of proving that a certain agent is thenecessary cause of a certain disease. Natural kindterms like rheumatoid arthritis and AIDS refer toessences which are discoverable rather thanpredeterminate. No statement about such diseases isa priori necessarily true. Because theories onnecessary causes involve natural kind semantics,Koch''s postulates cannot be used to falsify or verifysuch theories. Instead of proving that agent A is thenecessary cause of disease D, we include A in atheoretical definition of D, take this to representthe real meaning of D, and discard thepretheoretical definition. This is illustrated byKoch''s own attempt to prove he had discovered thenecessary cause of tuberculosis. Methodologicalarguments about disease causation require a clear viewof our use of diagnostic terms. Medical lexicographersshould do more to provide such a view.
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