Facts of Life

In claiming that facts are ever-changing due to various influences (i.e. social, political, religious, etc.), Fleck addresses the dynamic view of diseases (such that they change in their nature over time). Smith, on the other hand, rightly makes the distinction between “science” as based on facts and “medicine” as derived from a variety of social contexts. This distinction negates Fleck’s epistemological theory of ‘facts’ as continuously evolving thoughts that conceal truth. For instance, the fact that ‘water is H2O’ may not have been discovered until the development of molecular theory, but the fact still remains the same: water is two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen (without getting into the many complications of organic chemistry). One might argue, in support of Fleck, that this fact is the same as the fact of ‘syphilis is a disease given to humans by God’ (Fleck, 10). However, that ‘syphilis is a disease’, is a fact that has not changed, neither has ‘60% of our bodies are water’. Both these facts may be based in the social context of structures of linguistic systems, in the case of the former, and the context of human definition in the case of the latter (such that ‘water’ can be replaced with ‘H2O’ post the development of molecular theory). Specifically, while the perception of the fact that ‘syphilis is a disease’ has changed throughout history, it has not changed the basic idea: syphilis is in fact a disease. Hence, Fleck’s conception of fact, thoughts and perceptions of facts seems to capture the problems with the definitions of specific diseases, as they change with time, but it does not capture any epistemological inaccuracy of fact based judgments used as prerequisites in understanding the scientific structure of diseases.

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One Response to Facts of Life

  1. Sangwoo says:

    The fact that syphilis causes illness has not changed, but the concept of what syphilis is has changed dramatically, in its origin, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. Fleck argues that epistemology cannot properly be construed: it is always distorted. so the change in definition is inevitable as the epistemology of certain society of certain era always changes. the molecular theory of water works in so far as it works with other laws of chemistry. but it doesn’t mean it’s true. the length of its confirmation cannot determine its validity. we don’t actually have the developed means to observe molecules. even atomic force microscopy can detect traces of small molecules or atoms. they used to think that atoms are made of electrons circling neutrons and protons on a plane two-dimensional, but they now think it’s more like a gaseous cloud of electrons. classical physics were thought to be applied to all physical phenomena in universe, but it does not to work on quantum scale. our understanding of something is always subjected to inaccuracy.

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