Medical humanities: stranger at the gate, or long-lost friend?
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“Medical humanities” is a phrase whose currency is wider than its agreed meaning or denotation. What sort of study is it, and what is its relation to the study of philosophy of medicine? This paper briefly reviews the origins of the current flowering of interest and activity in studies that are collectively called “medical humanities” and presents an account of its nature and central enquiries in which philosophical questions are unashamedly central. In the process this paper argues that the field of enquiry is well-conceived as being philosophical in character, and as having philosophy — albeit pursued over a larger canvas — at the core of its contributing humanities disciplines. The paper characterises humanities disciplines as having an important focus on human experience and subjectivity, of which the experiences and subjectivities at stake in health, medicine and illness form an important sub-set, the preoccupation of the medical humanities as a whole. Claims of interdisciplinarity (as distinct from multidisciplinarity) are noted, but such claims need to be recognised for the high and stern ambition that they embody, and should not be made lightly.
Keywordshumanities interdisciplinarity medical humanities philosophy of medicine subjectivity
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