Philosophy of Medicine

Course Information

Course Number: BIOL 1V00
Meeting Time and Location: Wednesday 4-4:50pm – CB3 1.314
Office Hours: TBD
Appointments: Sign up for appointments

Course Description

Philosophy of medicine is a field of philosophy that explores fundamental questions about theory, research, and practice in medicine and the health sciences. Philosophy of medicine explores typically philosophical questions of the sort found in ethics, political philosophy, metaphysics, and epistemology, focused on the medical field. In medical ethics, we consider questions of right and wrong in medical practice and in research, as well as political consideration of justice. In metaphysics of medicine, we consider the definitions and nature of health and disease, the categorization of diseases, and the status of reductionism in medicine. In the epistemology of medicine, we consider the nature and status of medical knowledge, medical evidence, the methods of medical research, and the nature of medical expertise. It is important for medical and health professionals and researchers to understand the philosophy of medicine, because these fundamental questions have important consequences for understanding the goals and methods of medical research and practice.

Philosophy of medicine is an interdisciplinary field relying on both the skills of philosophers as well as a deep understanding of case studies and the nature of medical theory and practice. As such, we will not confine our reading in this course to the writings of philosophers. We will also look at history, medical memoir, and popular writings on health and medicine in order to give content to our philosophical reflections on medicine. Many of the works we will read are pessimistic in nature: about the historical record of injustice in medical practice, about the health and socioeconomic effects of medical practice in the U.S., about the status of medical knowledge. This is not because philosophy of medicine is inherently pessimistic, nor because inculcating a pessimistic view is the goal in the class, but because these views are meant to contrast with the general tone of optimism common in medical education and the popular press. Creating such a contrast is an important step to thinking critically, and thus philosophically, about the nature of medicine.



  1. Rachel Pearson, No Apparent Distress
  2. Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  3. Shannon Brownlee, Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer
  4. Jacob Stegenga, Medical Nihilism (copies will be provided)


  1. Beauchamp and Childress, Principles of Biomedical Ethics
  2. Harriet A. Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

Books have been ordered at Off Campus Books, and likely cannot be found at the on-campus Follett University Bookstore. Please purchase the editions ordered there or linked above.


  1. Weekly reading journals – ~2 pages
  2. Attendance and participation