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Agro Inc. had acquired a reputation for undercutting their competitors and obtaining international military contracts. Their aggressive policies and competitive streak made their stockholders wealthy, but did not lead to good interpersonal relations with their staff. Many employees had been summarily dismissing for non-performance and others quit in disgust. When several employees were given pink slips for frequently falling sick, they filed a suit against their employers. They claimed that the time they had spent in the Middle East exposed them to toxic chemicals and they were thus suffering from the Gulf War Syndrome. Not to be outdone, Agro Inc hired sharp lawyers to contest these claims.
The lawyers, in turn, called on several philosophers to act as expert witnesses on behalf of the defendants. They felt quite cynically that the plaintiffs would have no chance. One of the lawyers quipped, “Put the Philosophers in court and the judge will scream for help.”
This problem provoked much discussion. Amongst the questions that were asked were the following: How can one distinguish between slacking off and being really sick? Is inability to function a definition of illness? Conversely dose ability to function equate to health? Dose the Gulf War Syndrome exist? Who defines a disease? Do these definitions matter? To Whom? Do Insurance companies consult philosophers? Do doctors take philosophy seriously? Can philosophers act as expert witnesses? If there is no concept of a disease, can there be a concept of compensation? What determines a disease? How dose it differ from a syndrome? Is it just a term? What are the boundaries?