Explaining Cancer: Finding Order in Disorder

ISBN : 9780199967452

Anya Plutynski
320 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Sep 2018
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In Explaining Cancer, Anya Plutynski addresses a variety of philosophical questions that arise in the context of cancer science and medicine. She begins with the following concerns:
How do scientists classify cancer? Do these classifications reflect nature's "joints"?
How do cancer scientists identify and classify early stage cancers?
What does it mean to say that cancer is a "genetic" disease? What role do genes play in "mechanisms for" cancer?
What are the most important environmental causes of cancer, and how do epidemiologists investigate these causes?
How exactly has our evolutionary history made us vulnerable to cancer?

Explaining Cancer uses these questions as an entrée into a family of philosophical debates. It uses case studies of scientific practice to reframe philosophical debates about natural classification in science and medicine, the problem of drawing the line between disease and health, mechanistic reasoning in science, pragmatics and evidence, the roles of models and modeling in science, and the nature of scientific explanation.


1. Opening
2. Plan of Organization
3. Autobiographical Prelude
Chapter 1: Cancer: Natural, Social and Medical Kind
1. Introduction
2. Cancer Classification in Practice
3. Natural Kinds and Disease Kinds
4. Is Cancer a Homeostatic Property Cluster Kind? A Potted History and
5. Taking a Pragmatic Turn
6. Conclusion
Chapter 2: From Disease to Risk
1. Introduction
2. Concerning Definition
3. Naturalism: Disease as Dysfunction
7. Problematizing Functiom
8. Objections to the Naturalist View
9. The Eliminativist View
10. From Disease to Risk
Chapter 3: Causation, Causal Selection and Causal Parity
1. Introduction: On Genes as Causes
2. Putting Concepts of Causation in their Proper Place
3. The Mechanistic Research Program in Cancer
4. Causal Selection, Causal Parity, and Genetic Disease
5. Conclusion
Chapter 4: Evidence and Environmental Epidemiology: A Pragmatic Approach
1. Introduction
2. Epidemiology: An Overview
3. Tobacco
4. Ionizing Radiation: The Downwinders
5. Summary Discussion
Chapter 5: Explaining Cancer from an Evolutionary Perspective
1. Evolutionary Thinking about Disease: A Taxonomy
2. Cancer Evolving
3. Modeling and Reality
4. Evolution, Modeling, and Hypothetical Explanation
Chapter 6: Explanation
1. Introduction
2. Summary Discussion

About the author: 

Anya Plutynski received her Ph.D. in Philosophy, and her M.A. in Biology, both from the University of Pennsylvania. She currently teaches philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis.

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