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Four conceptions of social pathology

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Laitinen Arto, Särkelä Arvi,
Project Eine Diagnose sozialer Pathologien? Variationen des Naturalismus in der Sozialphilosophie
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal European Journal of Social Theory
Volume (Issue) 22(1)
Page(s) 80 - 102
Title of proceedings European Journal of Social Theory
DOI 10.1177/1368431018769593

Open Access


This article starts with the idea that the task of social philosophy can be defined as the diagnosis and therapy of social pathologies. It discusses four conceptions of social pathology. The first two conceptions are ‘normativist’ and hold that something is a social pathology if it is socially wrong. On the first view, there is no encompassing characterization of social pathologies available: it is a cluster concept of family resemblances. On the second view, social pathologies share a structure (e.g. second-order disorder). The last two conceptions are ‘naturalist’ and hold that something is wrong because it is pathological. The third view takes it that society is the kind of substance that can fall ill – an organism. The fourth view operates with the notion of a social life that can degenerate. The four conceptions are compared along six criteria: (1) is the view plausible?; (2) is it informative (if true)?; (3) does it help define the task of social philosophy?; (4) does it take naturalistic vocabulary seriously?; (5) does it hold that pathologies share a structure?; and (6) how does it see the primacy of being wrong and being pathological?