, Volume 195, Issue 7, pp 3197–3220 | Cite as

What are chronic diseases?

  • Jonathan Fuller


What kind of a thing are chronic diseases? Are they objects, bundles of signs and symptoms, properties, processes, or fictions? Rather than using concept analysis—the standard approach to disease in the philosophy of medicine—to answer this metaphysical question, I use a bottom-up, inductive approach. I argue that chronic diseases are bodily states or properties—often dispositional, but sometimes categorical. I also investigate the nature of related pathological entities: pathogenesis, etiology, and signs and symptoms. Finally, I defend my view against alternate accounts of the nature of disease.


Chronic disease Metaphysics Ontology Dispositions Concept analysis Experimental philosophy Philosophy of medicine 



Thanks to Nicholas Binney, Jeremy Simon, David Teira, Paul Thompson, Ross Upshur and anonymous reviewers for challenging and insightful feedback, and especially to Ayelet Kuper for suggesting several examples. Thanks also to the audience at the 2015 Philosophy of Medicine Roundtable for fruitful comments and discussion. I am thankful for funding support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. I have no conflicts of interest to declare.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Wilson CentreUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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