Narrative Prosthesis - The University of Michigan Press
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The "principle of pathology" that became his focal object of study emerged in the 19th century, when, in Canguilhem's estimation, medicine needed a way to reassure itself about the efficacy of human technique by "delegat[ing] the task of restoring the diseased organism to the desired norm" to technical means. This new kind of optimism replaced an earlier one, what he calls the "dynamic model," that viewed disease in relation to the whole person through a qualitative commixing of the body's humors. The disturbance of a holist harmony in this earlier model is what was understood to cause disease, and was "an effort on the part of nature of effect a new equilibrium in man." The departure from the dynamic model of disease, we must note, was an attendant feature of a large shift in medical thought from vitalist conceptions of the body that compartmentalized health into totalities of good and evil. What Canguilhem calls the new "ontological theory" of disease is the object of his study.
Review - Narrative Prosthesis - Ethics
Canguilhem is not chiefly interested in this shift, or the exact mechanism of optimism in medical therapies, or even the longer intellectual legacy of these competing notions of disease. He is more concerned with how the "ontological" notion came to be and how its effects ramify from medicine into other domains of knowledge. He is interested in the implications of a logical condition that, in its simplest version, says: "[P]athological phenomena are identical to corresponding normal phenomena save for quantitative variations." The normal and the pathological, in other words, differ in degree but not in kind.