Health and disease as practical concepts: exploring function in context-specific definitions

Rik van der Linden*, Maartje Schermer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Despite the longstanding debate on definitions of health and disease concepts, and the multitude of accounts that have been developed, no consensus has been reached. This is problematic, as the way we define health and disease has far-reaching practical consequences. In recent contributions it is proposed to view health and disease as practical- and plural concepts. Instead of searching for a general definition, it is proposed to stipulate context-specific definitions. However, it is not clear how this should be realized. In this paper, we review recent contributions to the debate, and examine the importance of context-specific definitions. In particular, we explore the usefulness of analyzing the relation between the practical function of a definition and the context it is deployed in. We demonstrate that the variety of functions that health and disease concepts need to serve makes the formulation of monistic definitions not only problematic but also undesirable. We conclude that the analysis of the practical function in relation to the context is key when formulating context-specific definitions for health and disease. At last, we discuss challenges for the pluralist stance and make recommendations for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-140
Number of pages10
JournalMedicine, Health Care and Philosophy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research is funded by the Dutch Scientific Organization (NWO), Project Number 406.18.FT.002.

Publisher Copyright: © 2021, The Author(s).


Dive into the research topics of 'Health and disease as practical concepts: exploring function in context-specific definitions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this