The Rise of Causal Concepts of Disease: Case Histories, 1st Edition (e-Book) book cover

The Rise of Causal Concepts of Disease

Case Histories, 1st Edition

By K. Codell Carter


248 pages

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Much of contemporary medical theory and practice focuses on the identification of specific causes of disease. However, this has not always been the case: until the early nineteenth century physicians thought of diseases in quite different terms. The modern quest for causes of disease can be seen as a single Lakatosian research programme. One can track the rise and elaboration of this programme by a series of case histories. The success of work on bacterial diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis tends to eclipse the broad context in which those studies were embedded. Yet, in the 1830s, fifty years before Koch's publications on tuberculosis, specific causes were already being identified for several non-bacterial diseases including scabies, muscardine and ringworm. Moreover, by the end of the century, the quest for specific causes had spread well beyond bacterial diseases. The expanding research programme included Freud's early work on psychopathology, the discovery of viruses, the discovery of vitamins, and the recognition of genetic disorders such as Down's syndrome. Existing historical discussions of research in these areas, for example, histories of work on the deficiencies diseases, take the view that success in bacteriology was a positive obstacle to the identification of causes for other kinds of diseases. Treating the quest for causes as a single coherent research programme provides a better understanding of the disease concepts that characterise the last 150 years of medical thought.


'The book is extremely well researched. The author has used numerous primary sources, many of them written in German and French. Excellent addition to philosophy, history of science, and medicine collections.' E-Streams 'Occasionally a book comes along from another discipline that illuminates a new path for historical study. The philosopher K Codell Carter's authoritative study of the transition from an assumption that diseases have multiple causes to the modern belief in universal, necessary causes is such a book. For decades, historians have fruitfully explored the social history of modern medicine to the neglect of its intellectual history. Carter's careful dissection of the changing concepts that led to the germ theory of infectious diseases provides a sturdy base on which historians may rectify this imbalance and investigate previously unasked questions about the history of medicine in the last hundred years.' Medical History

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; Introduction; Causes of disease in early 19th-century practical medicine; Universal necessary causes; Etiological characterizations; Microorganisms as causes; The bacterial hyphothesis; A bacterial theory of disease; Proving disease causation; The etiological standpoint; An ideational theory of disease; Protozoal and viral theories of disease; A nutritional deficiency theory of disease; Some final thoughts; Bibliography; Index.

About the Series

The History of Medicine in Context

An interest in medicine is one of the constants that re-occurs throughout history. From the earliest times, man has sought ways to combat the myriad of diseases and ailments that afflict the human body, resulting in a number of evolving and often competing philosophies and practices whose repercussions spread far beyond the strictly medical sphere.

For more than a decade The History of Medicine in Context series has provided a unique platform for the publication of research pertaining to the study of medicine from broad social, cultural, political, religious and intellectual perspectives. Offering cutting-edge scholarship on a range of medical subjects that cross chronological, geographical and disciplinary boundaries, the series consistently challenges received views about medical history and shows how medicine has had a much more pronounced effect on western society than is often acknowledged. As medical knowledge progresses, throwing up new challenges and moral dilemmas, The History of Medicine in Context series offers the opportunity to evaluate the shifting role and practice of medicine from the long perspective, not only providing a better understanding of the past, but often an intriguing perspective on the present.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General