Kazem Sadegh-Zadeh     Philosophy of Medicine     HAPM



Philosophy of Medicine

Subject and Scope

Philosophy of medicine as the union of protomedicine and metamedicine has as its subject everything in medicine that belongs to proto-level or to meta-level concerns.

On the one hand, the proto-level contains necessary presuppositions without which there can be no medicine. For example, concepts of health and disease are protomedical entities because without a concept of health there can exist no human activity that could be referred to as "health care"; and without a concept of disease there can exist no nosology that conceptualizes individual diseases as specific disease states of human beings to be cured by medicine.

On the other hand, the meta-level receives its items from within medicine by viewing them from the perspective of language. For example, a question such as "what does the theory of cellular pathology look like?" can be transformed to a metalinguistic question of the form:

  • How can the term "theory of cellular pathology" be defined?

demonstrating that cellular pathology is not only a favorite object of pathologists. As a medical theory according to which diseases result from changes that occur in cells, it can be treated as a subject of the philosophy of medicine as well, specifically, of medical epistemology. Now, one may logically analyze the structure of the reconstructed theory to show that this theory is empirically not testable because it contains the Virchowian dictum "Omnis cellula e cellula" (every cell originates from another cell), which says:

  • For every cell x, there is another cell y such that x originates from y.

A sentence of this form containing a generalization ("for every ...") combined with an existence assertion ("there is ...") is empirically not testable, as the generalization prevents verification, while the existence assertion prevents falsification (see [1], p. 397). By so doing, you have exercised a bit philosophy of medicine. Such philosophizing is important to medicine, for even our simple exercise has implications wherever cellular pathology is a relevant tool, e.g., pathology and clinical medicine.

It can easily be seen that philosophy of medicine has a very wide scope because almost everything in medicine, viewed from a suitable perspective, turns out a subject of philosophical scrutiny. It ranges from theories to hypotheses to concepts to objects to values and so on. A concise classification may be found on the HAPM page of this website.

[1] Sadegh-Zadeh K. Handbook of Analytic Philosophy of Medicine. Dordrecht: Springer, 2012.