The Role of Philosophy in Modern Medicine


In this paper I argue that contrary to what some philosophers think, there exists a very close link between philosophy and medicine. From ancient Greece with Hippocrates to the modern era, philosophy has been at the basis of medicine. This is especially true of Western medicine which greatly depends on the philosophies of Bacon and Descartes. Although the two disciplines seem to pursue two disparate goals— philosophy being the quest for truth while medicine is the quest for health, they are in complementary ways striving for the enhancement of human wellbeing. While medicine seeks to fight diseases of the body like bacteria and viruses, philosophy seeks to fight the diseases of the mind like half-truths, prejudices, woolly judgments and uncritical conceptions of the world, health and disease, which have direct impact on health, and health delivery. Using substantive examples, I show that the practice of medicine raises questions beyond the scope of medicine, questions to which only philosophy may provide answers because they fall within its scope. Daily, physicians are confronted with questions in such philosophical areas like metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and logic. Moreover, I argue that one of the weaknesses of modern Western medicine is its over-dependence on the Cartesian ontology which considers human bodies as machines which need to be studied using scientific logic, and the physician as a technician whose job is to repair dysfunctioned bodies. This modern metaphysical outlook resulted in the neglect of the patient as a subjective being. This deficiency cannot be overcome without reviewing the Cartesian reductionist worldview which is at its foundation.

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Tosam, M. (2014) The Role of Philosophy in Modern Medicine. Open Journal of Philosophy, 4, 75-84. doi: 10.4236/ojpp.2014.41011.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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