The Journal of Philosophy of Disability


published on June 7, 2022

Quill R KuklaOrcid-ID

What Counts as a Disease, and Why Does It Matter?

I argue that the concept of disease serves such radically different strategic purposes for different kinds of stakeholders that coming up with a unified philosophical definition of disease is hopeless. Instead, I defend a radically pluralist, pragmatist account of when it is appropriate to mobilize the concept of disease. I argue that it is appropriate to categorize a condition as a disease when it serves legitimate strategic goals to at least partially medicalize that condition, and when the condition is pathological from inside the epistemology and metaphysics of medicine. While some conditions, like pancreatic cancer, are legitimate diseases from all stakeholders’ points of view and in any context, and while other conditions, like homosexuality, are not diseases from any legitimate point of view, there is a range of interesting, messy cases—including Deafness, autism, pre-hypertension, infertility, and ADHD, for example—whose disease status is irreducibly context-dependent and under contest.