Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 633–644

Culture, Truth, and Science After Lacan



Truth and knowledge are conceptually related and there is a way of construing both that implies that they cannot be solely derived from a description that restricts itself to a set of scientific facts. In the first section of this essay, I analyse truth as a relation between a praxis, ways of knowing, and the world. In the second section, I invoke the third thing—the objective reality on which we triangulate as knowing subjects for the purpose of complex scientific endeavours like medical science and clinical care. Such praxes develop robust methods of “keeping in touch” with disease and illness (like biomarkers). An analysis drawing on philosophical semantics motivates the needed (anti-scientistic) account of meaning and truth (and therefore knowledge) and underpins the following argument: (i) the formulation and dissemination of knowledge rests on language; (ii) language is selective in what it represents in any given situation; (iii) the praxes of a given (sub)culture are based on this selectivity; but (iv) human health and illness involve whole human beings in a human life-world; therefore, (v) medical knowledge should reflectively transcend, where required, biomedical science towards a more inclusive view. Parts three and four argue that a post-structuralist (Lacanian) account of the human subject can avoid both scientism and idealism or unconstrained relativism.


Culture Scientific truth Philosophical semantics Lacan 


  1. Armstrong, D.M. 2004. Truth and truthmakers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Clark-Grill, M. 2010. When listening to the people: Lessons from complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for bioethics. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 7(1): 71–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Davidson, D. 2001. Subjective, intersubjective, objective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. de Saussure, F. 1972. Course in general linguistics. Edited by C. Bally and A. Sechehaye, translated by R. Harris. Chicago and La Salle, IL: Open Court. Originally published as Cours de linguistique générale (London: Duckworth, 1983).Google Scholar
  5. Evans, G. 1982. The varieties of reference. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  6. Foucault, M. 1984. In The Foucault reader, Edited by P. Rabinow. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  7. Foucault, M. 2008. Introduction to Kant’s anthropology. Los Angeles: Semiotexte.Google Scholar
  8. Frege, G. 1980. Translations from the philosophical writings of Gottlob Frege. Edited by P. Geach and M. Black. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  9. Gillett, G. 1992. Representation meaning and thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gillett, G. 2004. Bioethics in the clinic: Hippocratic reflections. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Gillett, G. 2008. Subjectivity and being somebody: Human identity and neuroethics. Exeter: Imprint Academic.Google Scholar
  12. Gillett, G. 2009a. The mind and its discontents, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gillett, G. 2009b. Indigenous knowledges: Circumspection, metaphysics, and scientific ontologies. Sites 6(1): 97–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gillett, G. 2014. Concepts, consciousness and counting by pigeons. Mind 123(492): 1147–1153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gillett, G., and J. McMillan. 2001. Consciousness and intentionality. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Harre, R., and G. Gillett. 1994. The discursive mind. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  17. Heidegger, M. 1977. The question concerning technology. Translated by W. Lovitt. New York: Garland.Google Scholar
  18. Kant, I. 1997. The critique of pure reason. Translated by P. Guyer and A. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Originally published as Critik der reinen vernunft (Riga: Johann Friedrich Hartknoch, 1789).Google Scholar
  19. Kripke, S.A. 1979. A puzzle about belief. In Meaning and use, Edited by E. Margolit, 61–84. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  20. Kuhn, T.S. 1962. The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  21. Lacan, J. 1977. Ecrits. New York: Norton & Co.Google Scholar
  22. Lacan, J. 1979. The four fundamental concepts of psycho-analysis. Translated by A. Sheridan. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  23. Locke, J. 1975. An essay concerning human understanding. Edited by P. Nidditch. Oxford: Clarendon. Originally published as An essay concerning human understanding (London: William Tegg, 1689).Google Scholar
  24. Mercier, H., and D. Sperber. 2011. Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory. Behavioural and Brain Sciences 34(2): 57–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Newton-Smith, W. 1981. The rationality of science. Boston: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pinker, S. 2010. The cognitive niche: Coevolution of intelligence, sociality and language. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(S2): 8993–8999.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Quinton, A. 1967. The problem of perception. In The philosophy of perception, Edited by G. Warnock, 61–84. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  28. Russell, B. 2007. On the nature of acquaintance. In Logic and knowledge, Edited by B. Russell, 125–174. London: Unwin.Google Scholar
  29. Schönbaumsfeld, G. 2007. A confusion of the spheres: Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein on philosophy and religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sellars, W. 1997. Empiricism and the philosophy of Mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Tarski, A. 1944. The semantic conception of truth: And the foundations of semantics. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 4(3): 341–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Tomasello, M. 2014. A natural history of human thinking. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Van Fraasen, B. 2008. Scientific representation: Paradoxes of perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Vygotsky, L.S. 1962. Thought and language. Translated by E. Hanfmann and G. Vakar. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Originally published as Myshlenie i rech’ (Moscow: Sotsekgiz, 1934).Google Scholar
  35. Wikipedia. 2014. Causal filter. Accessed October 10, 2015.
  36. Wittgenstein, L. 1953. Philosophical investigations. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell. Originally published as Philosophische untersuchungen (Oxford: Blackwell, 1953).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Otago Bioethics CentreUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations