Stub. On the mechanics and political economy of calling phenomena diseases, versus other classifications.

Contested questions: Are the following phenomena best regarded through the lense of disease, or not? ADHD? depression? cognitive enhancement by nootropics? Personality disorders Transgender identities Sexual orientation? Calling things, even parts of things, can be stigmatising. But also, observationally speaking, it can motivate society to treat them. Also the alternative seems to be classifying things as moral failings, which rarely seems useful. Are there universal principles we can find for this, or merely contingent attempts to solve for marginal improvements to the status quo?

Why does classifying something as a disease make it more legitimate to treat it, whereas mere need to thrive does not? What are the status effects of calling something an illness versus a preference? I’m curious about the interaction with the great society, making disease legible and thus implicating it in e.g. the health care system.


  • Sam Atis, in More notes on ADHD, connects ADHD medication to nootropics and finds no meaningful differentiation.
  • Lionel Shriver compares transgenderism to anorexia. Because this is a fraught topic I will flag that I diagree with her conclusion, but she does some interesting work there.

Diseased thinking: dissolving questions about disease.


Haslam, Nick. 2016. Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology.” Psychological Inquiry 27 (1): 1–17.

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