Organizational Malfunctions and the Notions of Health and Disease

  • Cristian SaboridoEmail author
  • Alvaro Moreno
  • María González-Moreno
  • Juan Carlos Hernández Clemente
Part of the History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences book series (HPTL)


In this paper we develop a systemic-organizational account of the notion of biological malfunction and present the implications of this theoretical model for the philosophy of medicine. We try to ground the theoretical notion of biological normativity, interpreting it as an inherent feature of biological systems. We then develop a theoretical account of malfunctions, based on the adaptive mechanisms of living systems, which explains the ways in which, and the reasons why, a biological trait is malfunctional in terms of current organization. According to our account, the organizational closure – i.e., the web of mutual constraining actions of the material structures on their boundary conditions that collectively self-maintain the whole organization of the system – provides a naturalistic grounding of the concept of normative functions from a systemic framework and constitutes the causal regime in which biological functions (and malfunctions) appear and can be identified. To illustrate this, we consider some significant medical examples. We claim that our definition of biological malfunction provides the theoretical resources for a naturalization of the notion of biological normativity with relevant implications for a naturalist conception of notions of health and disease.


Malfunction Normativity Organization Health Naturalism 



This paper is a revised version of a talk prepared for the Conference on Health and Disease Concepts held in Lyon, France, 9/10 November 2012. We are grateful to the audience at that conference, especially to David Teira and Elodie Giroux for their comments on previous versions of this paper. Alvaro Moreno acknowledges aid from the Research Project IT 505-10 of the Gobierno Vasco and FFU2009-12895-CO2-02 and FFI2014-52173-P of the Spanish Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad. Preparation of this manuscript was supported by the UNED grant 20013-029-UNED.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cristian Saborido
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alvaro Moreno
    • 2
  • María González-Moreno
    • 3
  • Juan Carlos Hernández Clemente
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Logic and History and Philosophy of ScienceUNEDMadridSpain
  2. 2.Department of Logic and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of the Basque CountryDonostia - San SebastianSpain
  3. 3.Department of Basic Medical SciencesCEU San PabloMadridSpain
  4. 4.Department of PsychiatryAutonomous University of MadridMadridSpain

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