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Does the philosophy of medicine exist?

Abstract

There has been a great deal of discussion, in this journal and others, about obstacles hindering the evolution of the philosophy of medicine. Such discussions presuppose that there is widespread agreement about what it is that constitutes the philosophy of medicine.

Despite the fact that there is, and has been for decades, a great deal of literature, teaching and professional activity carried out explicitly in the name of the “philosophy of medicine”, this is not enough to establish that consensus exists as to the definition of the field. And even if consensus can be obtained as to what constitutes the philosophy of medicine, this does not mean that it exists as a field.

In order to constitute a field, an inquiry must be well-integrated with other cognate inquiries and disciplines, have an established canon of key books, textbooks, anthologies and articles, and a set of distinctive and defining problems. The philosophy of medicine as it currently exists fails to satisfy these criteria and, thus, fails to exist as a field of inquiry.

The non-existence of the philosophy of medicine is unfortunate. Medicine and philosophy would both benefit from the development of the philosophy of medicine as a field. The philosophy of medicine is an essential foundation for bioethics, it should provide insights into some of the key problems of the philosophy of science such as the nature of explanation and theoretical evolution, and, ought help to shape the goals as well as the methods used in both experimentation and research in medicine and the health sciences.

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Caplan, A.L. Does the philosophy of medicine exist?. Theor Med Bioeth 13, 67–77 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00489220

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Key words

  • bioethics
  • epistemology
  • field of inquiry
  • philosophy of science
  • philosophy of medicine