Medico-ethical versus biological evaluationism, and the concept of disease

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 15 (2):165-173 (2012)
According to the ‘fact-plus-value’ model of pathology propounded by K. W. M. Fulford, ‘disease’ is a value term that ought to reflect a ‘balance of values’ stemming from patients and doctors and other ‘stakeholders’ in medical nosology. In the present article I take issue with his linguistic-analytical arguments for why pathological status must be relative to such a kind of medico-ethical normativity. Fulford is right to point out that Boorse and other naturalists are compelled to utilize evaluative terminology when they characterize the nature of diseases and biological dysfunctions. But the relevant ‘biofunctional judgements’ are no less factual and empirical for that. While it is indeed evaluative to say that biological dysfunctions involve failures to execute naturally selected functions, such judgments are not bound to entail anything about what is good or bad for us, and what should be treated or not. In the last part of the paper I ruminate briefly on the relationship between ‘biological evaluationism’, on my construal, and descriptions of ‘causal biology’. As I note in my conclusion, a strict bioevaluative concept of disease can be valid for every species on earth, and thus be of particular usefulness in general biological contexts
Keywords Bioevaluative judgements  Concept of biological dysfunction  Concept of disease  Evaluationism  Fact-plus-values model of pathology  Naturalism
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DOI 10.1007/s11019-011-9341-0
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