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Publication Details

Social Pathology: Philosophical Notion, Or Incorrectly Chosen Metaphor?

(Original title: Sociálna patológia – filozofický pojem, alebo zle zvolená metafora?)
Filozofia, 70 (2015), 9, 693-702.
Type of work: Papers
Publication language: Slovak

The notion of social pathology has become a common term which is being used very broadly: in common speech as well as in academic discussions. The paper focuses on the historical development of this notion. The author explores its usage from the early meaning of the term in medical vocabulary (Jean François Fernel in the16th century) through its application in the area of morality by Kant (pathology as a moral passivity, non-practical and thus immoral behaviour) to Herbert Spencer’s ideological extrapolation of the notion to the social sphere (thereof the broad usage of the term). The critical contribution was offered by Georges Canguilhem, who emphasized unscientific features of Spencerian shift and also critically referred to its consequences. He suggested the substitution of the metaphor based on organism-like picture of society by some new, more adequate metaphor, e.g. the metaphor of the invention of a harmonious and well-running mechanism or machine (i.e. society), which would be tested by heroes, i.e. people who are able to overcome outdated norms of the society. According to Canguilhem, rather than therapists of society we need social heroes. Canguilhem’s intention was not to interdict using metaphors on the whole, but to use them as critically as possible.


Criticism, G. Canguilhem, Medicine, Morality, Social Pathology, Sociality

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