Conceptions of the ‘good life’ and the various accounts of human well-being almost always entail some reference—direct or indirect—to physical and psychic health. The very term ‘disease’ implies ‘disease’, an absence of that which renders the human condition agreeable. There are many dimensions to disease, and to its counterpoint, ‘good health’. These range from concerns with therapy and the therapeutic to the advance of our understanding—in the modern world through the natural and social sciences—of illness, and from the cultural significance of disease to the economic costs and implications of ill-health and its management. Under the conditions of ‘modernity’ the nature and meaning of illness and of disease, though still culturally contested, has changed. Modern science has rendered the previously ‘inscrutable’ open to scrutiny and explanation. The advance of therapy is now inextricably bound up with the explanation of illness at the microbial, molecular and genetic levels. One consequence of the modern science of medicine has been to underwrite a quest for cures—paradigmatically embodied in new surgical interventions and technologies as well as, iconically, in the quest for ‘magic bullets’ represented, to begin with, by Paul Ehrlich’s salvarsan and later extended to antibiotics and to new-generation ‘designer drugs’.


A Journal of Social and Political Theory