David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 29 (4):451 – 472 (2004)
It is common to talk of wise physicians, but not so common to talk of wise patients. "Patient" is a word derived from the Latin patior - "to suffer," but also "to let be." Suffering has been the universal lot of humanity, and medicine rightly tries to relieve suffering. Medical progress, like all technological progress, leads us more and more to hope that we can control our fate. However, we do well to ask whether our attempts to control our fate are wise. Wisdom played a major role in the philosophy of the ancient Stoics, and so I propose putting these questions into the context of a new stoicism. For the Stoic, happiness consists in living in accord with nature. Stoics are sometimes portrayed as apathetic fatalists, silently accepting whatever misfortune might come their way, but this is a misunderstanding. The Stoic sage, like the common person, wants to preserve life and health. The difference is that the sage's wisdom brings knowledge about what actions are appropriate in the face of suffering. The sage sees suffering not as something that demands immediate control, but as something that might reasonably direct actions. Suffering brings turmoil to the common patient, who will take any possible steps to end the suffering. The wise patient possesses the knowledge that enables a correct assessment of the options in the face of the reality that we ultimately do not control our own fate.
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