What Is Disease?

You ought not to attempt to cure the eyes without the head, or the head without the body, so neither ought you to attempt to cure the body without the soul; and this . . . is the reason why the cure of many diseases is unknown to the physicians of Hellas, because they are ignorant of the whole, which ought to be studied also.

- Zamolxis as quoted in Plato, Charmides

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss man and disease. The Book of Exodus makes clear that when God wants to strike humankind, he does so with plague and disease. For millennia epidemics were understood exactly that way - as acts of divine retribution, a force of nature that could devastate empires and annihilate great swathes of population at a stroke. From the bubonic plague to measles, from cholera to smallpox, epidemics have constantly reshaped our world, leaving destruction and huge social upheaval in their wake. Before advanced science, what defences did humankind have? How much did the ancient Greeks understand of the root causes of disease - or did they simply explain it as an imbalance of the four humours that governed the body? What were the social and political consequences of The Black Death of 14th century Europe which wiped out a third of the population? How did the scientific breakthroughs of the 19th century - and the discovery of germ theory - alter people's perception of disease? And is it possible to live in a disease free society? How have we understood these afflictions, how have we fought against them and is it a war we can ever win?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Man and Disease

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Humans have been “acquiring” infectious diseases from animals (zoonotic diseases) since we first started hunting wild game on the African savannahs. Indeed, nearly 60% of bugs that infect humans originated in animals.

These days, we seem to see more “new” diseases, such as Zika, Ebola and SARS. But there are plenty more lurking. A recent study suggests there are around 300,000 pathogens we don’t even know about and some have the potential to spread from animals to humans.

The world’s scientific community is focused on how to improve detection and responses to emerging diseases such as Zika virus and Ebola. So what can we learn from the most recent large-scale outbreaks?...

Continue reading Simon Reid's article: Disease evolution: how new illness emerge when we change how we live

Further Reading

Health and disease are critical concepts in bioethics with far-reaching social and political implications. For instance, any attempt to educate physicians or regulate heath insurance must employ some standards that can be used to assess whether people are ill or not. Concepts of health and disease also connect in interesting ways with issues about function and explanation in philosophy of the biomedical sciences, and theories of well-being in ethics.

Doctors are called on to deal with many states of affairs. Not all of them, on any theory, are diseases. A doctor who prescribes contraceptives or performs an abortion is not treating a disease. Although some women cannot risk pregnancy or childbirth for health reasons, women typically use contraception or abortion in the service of autonomy and control over their lives. In addition, it is very difficult to find a philosophically or scientifically interesting cleavage between diseases and other complaints...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article: Concepts of Disease and Health by Dominic Murphy

Related Topics

If you’re interested in the concept of disease, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 Ageing | Disability | Genetics | The Human BodyMental Illness | Nutrition

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