What causes disease? What is a cause?

What Causes the Cause?

To attempt to answer the question: What causes disease, cancer, tonsillitis, etc.? Let me begin with my reply to a letter in The Irish Times.

Sir, – Liam Cooke (Letters, June 6, 2013) uses logic to justify abortion in suicidality (whatever that means) on the ground of cause and effect. But he commits a predictable logical mistake himself known as either cum hoc or post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Causation, like illness, is complex philosophically and medically, e.g. when a doctor says “it’s your liver”, one can easily ask what’s caused the liver. As the expert group in last week’s Oireachtas debate told us, contrary to Mr Cooke, psychiatry cannot predict a cause such as pregnancy will end in suicide or its corollary that an abortion will cure suicidality. Staying with logic; predictability is an indication of scientificity, psychiatry cannot predict, therefore psychiatry is not a science – so why should society defer to psychiatrists in such cases?

If I, as a Homeopath, suggested, let alone facilitated a questionable and vicarious treatment like a termination, that same society would string me up. Now, that’s illogical.
In their An Introduction to Metaphysics, John Carroll and Ned Markosian ask the following question; Causes cause disease
suppose you bump a glass of water with your elbow, water from the glass spills, how do we state this single-case causation?:
1. Did the bump cause the spill?
2. Did you cause the spill?
3. Did your bumping the glass cause the spill? i.e. a state of affairs or an event.
4. That you bumped the glass caused the spill. i.e. a statement of fact.

Needless to say this becomes very complex but suffice it to say that from a medical point of view, medicine, being of a rationalist bent philosophically, looks for causes to treat. Holistic approaches to medicine like Homeopathy veer toward an empirical philosophy, basing their prescriptions on what is evident to the senses. The battle between rationalism and empiricism, according to Harris Coulter’s informative four volume history of medical thought Divided Legacy, is the history of medicine since the ancient Greeks, as Coulter recounts. That argument still continues.

Dr Samuel Hahnemann showed in his Organon and his Chronic Diseases that we cannot theorise as to the cause of a disease as he explains in aphorism 1 of the Organon and its footnote:

Organon, aphorism §1
The physician’s high and only mission is to restore the sick to health, to cure, as it is termed.

Footnote: His mission is not, however, to construct so-called systems, by interweaving empty speculations and hypotheses concerning the internal essential nature of the vital processes and the mode in which diseases originate in the invisible interior of the organism, (whereon so many physicians have hitherto ambitiously wasted their talents and their time); nor is it to attempt to give countless explanations regarding the phenomena in diseases and their proximate cause (which must ever remain concealed), wrapped in unintelligible words and an inflated abstract mode of expression, which should sound very learned in order to astonish the ignorant—whilst sick humanity sighs in vain for aid. Of such learned reveries (to which the name of theoretic medicine is given, and for which special professorships are instituted) we have had quite enough, and it is now high time that all who call themselves physicians should at length cease to deceive suffering mankind with mere talk, and begin now, instead, for once to act, that is, really to help and to cure.

His answer was to treat the totality of symptoms with one medicine only, thereby removing the disease in its entirety and the cause for as Dr John Henry Clarke pointed out in his lovely little book The Prescriber, there is not a cause of disease, disease is invisible, it’s a disposition, a susceptibility, a disturbance of the vital force which pervades our whole being.

So what makes a pregnant woman suicidal? Does the zygote/embryo/foetus cause it? Does it come from a disposition within her? She could react to the stress differently and not every woman will react the same; so where is the cause?

Posted in Medicine, Philosophy of Medicine, Science and tagged , , , , , , , , , .