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Biology & Philosophy

, 33:37 | Cite as

The doctrine of specific etiology

  • Lauren N. Ross
Article
  • 52 Downloads

Abstract

Modern medicine is often said to have originated with nineteenth century germ theory, which attributed diseases to bacterial contagions. The success of this theory is often associated with an underlying principle referred to as the “doctrine of specific etiology”. This doctrine refers to specificity at the level of disease causation or etiology. While the importance of this doctrine is frequently emphasized in the philosophical, historical, and medical literature, these sources lack a clear account of the types of specificity that it involves and why exactly they matter. This paper argues that nineteenth century germ theory involves two types of specificity at the level of etiology. One type receives significant attention in the literature, but its influence on modern medicine has been misunderstood. A second type is present in this model, but it has been completely overlooked in the extant literature. My analysis clarifies how these types of specificity led to a novel conception of etiology that continues to figure in medicine today.

Keywords

Causation Biomedicine Biology Medicine Explanation 

Notes

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Ken Schaffner, Maureen O’Malley, audiences at the Medical Humanities Colloquium at the University of California, Irvine, audiences at the Issues in Medical Epistemology Conference in Cologne, Germany, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful feedback on this paper.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Logic and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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