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Journal publication date1/07/2002
JournalStudies in history and philosophy of biological and biomedical sciences
Journal number2
Number of pages20
Original languageEnglish


This paper examines what it is for a condition to be a disease. It falls into two sections. In the first I examine the best existing account of disease (as proposed by Christopher Boorse) and argue that it must be rejected. In the second I outline a more acceptable account of disease. According to this account, by disease we mean a condition that it is a bad thing to have, that is such that we consider the afflicted person to have been unlucky, and that can potentially be medically treated. All three criteria must be fulfilled for a condition to be a disease. The criterion that for a condition to be a disease it must be a bad thing is required to distinguish the biologically different from the diseased. The claim that the sufferer must be unlucky is needed to distinguish diseases from conditions that are unpleasant but normal, for example teething. Finally, the claim that for a condition to be a disease it must be potentially medically treatable is needed to distinguish diseases from other types of misfortune, for example economic problems and legal problems.

Bibliographic note

The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 33 (2), 2002, © ELSEVIER.