Naturalism in the Philosophy of Health pp 101-120
Organizational Malfunctions and the Notions of Health and Disease
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.