Diseases, patients and the epistemology of practice: mapping the borders of health, medicine and care

Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 21 (3):357-364 (2015)
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Last year saw the 20th anniversary edition of JECP, and in the introduction to the philosophy section of that landmark edition, we posed the question: apart from ethics, what is the role of philosophy ‘at the bedside’? The purpose of this question was not to downplay the significance of ethics to clinical practice. Rather, we raised it as part of a broader argument to the effect that ethical questions – about what we should do in any given situation – are embedded within whole understandings of the situation, inseparable from our beliefs about what is the case, what it is that we feel we can claim to know, as well as the meaning we ascribe to different aspects of the situation or to our perception of it. Philosophy concerns fundamental questions: it is a discipline requiring us to examine the underlying assumptions we bring with us to our thinking about practical problems. Traditional academic philosophers divide their discipline into distinct areas that typically include logic: questions about meaning, truth and validity; ontology: questions about the nature of reality, what exists; epistemology: concerning knowledge; and ethics: how we should live and practice, the nature of value. Any credible attempt to analyse clinical reasoning will require us to think carefully about these types of question and the relationships between them, as they influence our thinking about specific situations and problems. So, the answers to the question we posed, about the role of philosophy at the bedside, are numerous and diverse, and that diversity is illustrated in the contributions to this thematic edition.

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Author Profiles

Robyn Bluhm
Michigan State University
Brent Kious
University of Utah