Abstract

Most physiological functions are not performed constantly. For example, a normal digestive system digests only when there is food within the digestive system. Also, most physiological functions are performed with various intensity depending on the situation. For example, the beating rhythm of a normal heart differs between occasions of resting, walking, and running. This situation-specificity of physiological functions is something that a theory of physiological function needs to account for.
Many conditions which are classified as pathological in medical theory are such that they are typical responses to certain situations. For example, for humans, liver failure is a typical response in situations of overdosing on paracetamol, scurvy is a typical response in situations of vitamin C deficiency, and fractures is a typical response in situations of external violence. Since many examples of situation-specific pathology are considered paradigm cases of pathology, an account of health and pathology should classify (at least many of) these states as pathological.
In Paracetamol, poison, and polio: Why Boorse’s account of function fails to distinguish health and disease, Elselijn Kingma (2010) presents a dilemma for statistical accounts of health and pathology (roughly: accounts defining pathology in terms of statistical abnormality). The upshot is that a statistical account of health and pathology cannot account both for (i) the situation-specificity of physiological functions and (ii) situation-specific pathology. In order to account for the situation-specificity of physiological functions one needs to adopt situation-specific statistics. However, if one adopts situation-specific statistics, one will be unable to account for situation-specific pathology (since these are states that are typical responses to certain situations).
In the talk, I aim to present an account of health and pathology that escapes Kingma’s dilemma.