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Philosophy and Ethics

Medical Philosophy is the application of philosophy (the systematic analysis of arguments regarding the fundamental nature of reality, knowledge, and value) to medicine.

One aspect of this (Philosophy of Medicine) investigates conceptual and logical issues in medicine that can affect clinical treatment and health policy, including the definitions of health, illness, and disease, the definition of life and death, the classification systems of disease, the distinctions between symptom, sign, and syndrome, the problem of causation in disease, logical approaches to diagnosis such as eliminative diagnosis, Bayesian methods, and Koch’s postulates, goals of treatment, the nature of scientific methodology, and the role of medicine in society at large.

A second aspect (Medical Ethics) investigates the moral elements of medicine and strongly informs medical law and policy. Specific moral issues such as abortion, euthanasia, confidentiality, refusal of treatment, reproductive technology, genetic testing, ownership of biological materials, healthcare rights, and healthcare disparities are well known, but medical ethics includes many issues involving new technologies as well as broader issues about the role of medicine in society, the degree of personal responsibility patients have toward their own conditions, the degree to which medicine should be a commercial endeavor, and hard decisions about where to spend public funds on healthcare. Medical ethics and philosophy explore these issues not only in terms of conceptual analysis and logic but also by using experimental philosophical methods using social psychology and statistical tools.

A third aspect (Moral Psychology of Medicine) uses empirical and conceptual methods to study how actual moral decisions are made at the bedside and at the policy level by studying the psychology of values, moral emotions, and effects of medical technology on attributions of causation, perceptions of treatment efficacy, and determinations of life and death.

  • Education: Training health care professionals in biomedical ethics principles, logical analysis of moral issues, empirical moral psychology of medical ethics decision-making, communication skills with colleagues and patients regarding moral decisions through simulations
  • Research: Studying the empirical factors that influence attributions of causing harm or death, the conditions under which cheating in medical school is suspected, the unintended incentive structures of medical organizations, and problems with nosological classification of disease
  • Clinical: Assisting in determining capacity, assessing diagnostic standards, determining causes of moral psychological resistance to disease prevention