Philosophy at St Andrews

Philosophy Club - Dr Rachel Cooper - Lancaster

Wed 30th October 2019 16:00

Room 104, Edgecliffe

Dr Rachel Cooper - Disorder Revisted


Disorder revisited

 

Developing an account of disorder has been a central project within the philosophy of medicine. Those analysing ‘disorder’ aim to figure out what it is that makes us think of a condition as pathological, as opposed to some non-disorder state, such as a normal variation or a moral failing. In this paper, I argue that the project of seeking an account of disorder has been insufficiently sensitive to the fact that concepts change over time, and concepts of disorder are currently shifting. This problematises projects of traditional conceptual analysis concerning ‘disorder’. Conceptual change means that a criterion that was necessary for a condition to be considered a disorder at one point in time may cease to be necessary a relatively short period of time later. I consider three possible ways philosophers can proceed in such circumstances: (i) give up seeking an account of disorder, (ii) go revisionary, (iii) seek to ‘belt and brace’ conceptual claims. Options (i) and (ii) have been previously proposed by other writers (though for different motivations than dealing with conceptual change) and will be discussed only briefly. Option (iii) – seeking to ‘belt and brace’ conceptual claims is (I think) a novel suggestion, and a sizeable proportion of the paper will be devoted to developing this approach and illustrating how it might work. Despite the changing nature of our concept of disorder, I argue it is possible to make some conceptually-based claims that will be fairly robust. A key claim of traditional value-laden accounts is that it is not possible to give an adequate account of disorder that appeals only to biological facts. I think that this claim can be maintained, and can be expected to be fairly robust in the face of any likely forthcoming conceptual shifts. This is because our current concept of disorder currently requires normative judgments to be made at multiple points. For the foreseeable future it is likely that values will continue to play a role in determining the boundaries of disorder.

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