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Health and disease as practical concepts: a pragmatist approach to conceptualization of health and disease

Project summary

The way in which we conceptualize ‘disease’ and ‘health’ has far-reaching practical consequences. Crucial decisions, like on the inclusion in clinical trials, treatment regimens for patients, implementation of health-policy measures or eligibility for sickness benefits all depend on the definitions used. Due to medical, technological and societal developments the landscape of health and disease is rapidly changing, requiring new conceptualizations, while at the same time the traditional medical-philosophical debate on this issue has reached deadlock.
In this project, we will map how concepts of health and disease have changed over time, which functions they fulfill in various practices, and how current technological and scientific developments impact on these concepts (and vice versa). Building on this conceptual-empirical work and on philosophical pragmatism – as well as recent work from philosophy of medicine and other relevant philosophical sub-fields – we will further theoretically develop and defend a pragmatist approach. This will consist of a conceptual framework and conceptual tools, strategies and criteria to arrive at the best possible conceptualizations of health and disease in a given practical context. The focus is on present and future trends and transitions in medical practice, research and policy, especially chronic (multi)morbidity, (personalized) risk-prediction, and informatization.


This project aims to develop a new, pragmatist approach to conceptualization of health and disease, that will provide a better understanding and guidance regarding conceptualization of health and disease, and contribute to solving ‘problematic situations’, e.g. concerning our understanding of ‘health-risks’ and ‘pre-diseases’, or emerging ‘network’ notions of disease in systems biology.

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