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We should eliminate the concept of disease from mental health
  1. Nicholas Agar
  1. Correspondence to Dr Nicholas Agar, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington 6012, New Zealand; nicholas.agar{at}

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Russell Powell and Eric Scarffe1 are pluralists about disease. They offer their thickly normative account to meet the needs of doctors, but they allow that a different concept of disease might work better for zoologists.

In this commentary, I grant that Powell and Scarffe’s thickly normative evaluation of biological dysfunction works well in many medicinal contexts. Powell and Scarffe respond effectively to eliminativists—we should retain the concept of disease. But the paper’s pluralism and focus on the specific needs of institutions should permit us to eliminate the notion of disease from domains for which the historical grounding of their selected effects account of function are contrary to therapeutic goals. One such domain is mental health. I found Powell and Scarffe’s rejection of Boorse’s dispositional account of biological function persuasive—the selected effects account of function is a superior fit for biologists’ use of the term. But the historical nature of this concept is, at best, a distraction from the task of morally evaluating the many ways in which …

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  • Contributors This is all author’s own work.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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