Progress in defining disease: Improved approaches and increased impact

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


In a series of recent papers, I have made three arguments about how to define "disease" and evaluate and apply possible definitions. First, I have argued that definitions should not be seen as traditional conceptual analyses, but instead as proposals about how to define and use the term "disease" in the future. Second, I have pointed out and attempted to address a challenge for dysfunction- requiring accounts of disease that I call the "line-drawing" problem: distinguishing between low-normal functioning and dysfunctioning. Finally, I have used a dysfunction-requiring approach to argue that some extremely prevalent conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and ductal carcinoma in situ, are not diseases, but instead are risk factors. Four of the papers in this issue directly engage my previous work. In this commentary, I applaud the advances these authors make, address points of disagreement, and make suggestions about where the discussion should go next.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-502
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Medicine and Philosophy (United Kingdom)
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017


  • Biological normativity
  • Disease
  • Dysfunction-requiring account
  • Line-drawing problem
  • Risk factor
  • Screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Medicine(all)
  • Philosophy

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Progress in defining disease: Improved approaches and increased impact'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this