Philosophy And Medicine: The Intersecting Thought Of Health


A definition of health always ends up depending on its opposite, the disease, because only the condition exists as an event, while health, said Gadamer, "is dumb and elusive" and "lurking in a hidden place."


It is about one's own negation that health finds its meaning, in the same way, that the idea of peace is the late son of war, the concept of rest the daughter of fatigue and the notion of leisure a distant


descendant of painful toil. The emergence of positivities is most often at odds with the corresponding negativities. Health is thus "outside the field of knowledge," according to the so exciting and just word

of Canguilhem: it is a hollow concept, at the intersection of philosophy and medicine, sometimes united and sometimes separated in the contemplation of this distant object.Iatros Sophos isotheos, "doctor-philosopher, therefore, equal to a god": it is in these terms that Aristotle spoke of the "great Hippocrates," emphasizing the unity of medicine and philosophy in ancient Greece.

Longtime provinces of the same territory, they were then closer than sisters, since born not only together but in a certain way one of the other,

many doctors being philosophers and many philosophers being doctors, like the unclassifiable Empedocles. Despite this kinship or because of it,

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they quickly become formidable rivals: the philosophers then feel like a danger the development of a medicine that would better than philosophy to the knowledge of man

and doctors are wary of encroachments philosophers and their infinite desire for theory. Medicine gives an example, rare at this time, of an art ( techne ) both specialized, endowed with deontology, the Hippocratic Oath, and lending itself to the analysis of the relations between practice and knowledge.


Plato borrows the arête, quality of the body (strength, agility) which he makes the virtue, as well as the adios, the "picture of illness," which becomes the idea. He seeks among doctors a reference for the delimitation of the authentic and the usurped and the definition of competence, to transpose it to the art of governing the city.

It is also in medical writings that Aristotle discovers the notion of a middle ground that will become so important in his morals. In the opposite direction, the philosophy brings to medicine an innovative methodology and a system of categories allowing to describe and analyze the nature, the experiment, the cause, the change, the error, the fault, happy life, whose healthy life - health - is one of the modalities.

It is around this thought of health that will now intersect medicine and philosophy.When philosophers attempt, in the cities, to have the upper hand on the rational discourse, the doctors will be their only competitors, also appearing, although differently, as masters of life.

The medical discussion of the West will be constituted, at the end of these family quarrels through the emancipation of medicine in relation to philosophy:  father of medicine, Hippocrates [i] is, therefore, a double title as an inventor of the medical

gesture and as a hero of the rupture by which the two forms of rationality corresponding to the pursuit of the two vital ends for man, namely health, are established by freeing one another. And wisdom.

This fundamental separation has the effect of cutting the search for health, reserved for the medical profession, from that of knowledge, the object of philosophy. In reality, the links will remain and sometimes even tighten. Thus, the questioning of health, the search for a preparation of the sage and everyone for disease, suffering and death, and finally the vigilance with regard to the ethical and epistemological validity of the practice and medical thought are all themes on which was built, over time, a whole philosophy of health, from Plato to the Stoics, then Montaigne, Descartes, Spinoza, Rousseau, Kant, Nietzsche, finally to Bergson, Alain, Wittgenstein, Sartre, Ricœur, Foucault [ii], to recite nobody else but them.

What is called health in the more recent sense of the set of skills and actions, as in health personnel, is a set of concepts that refer to as many chapters of philosophy: knowledge and truth, theory and practice, responsibility and law, value and norm, otherness and relationship, etc.

The link between the two disciplines has been reinforced by ethical questioning, which always refers to a philosophy of the world.It is not a code that must decide, but the conscience of those who, possessing art, deliberate from principles:

medical ethics is the philosophical practice of those who care.The world of care then becomes for philosophy an inexhaustible source of references and the opportunity for a hard test of the concepts.

 With its fascinating diversity, it offers the philosopher access to a universe where there is an ontological weight particular, because the wait, the anguish, the pain, the hope, the accompaniment, the intimacy, to quote only these few aspects, do not refer to a neutral division of the reality but a stable density of existence. This is why the philosopher has so much interest in the facts of the healing world and the hospital, philosophical object if any, and this is what qualifies the caregiver to philosophize: for those who live every day under the reign of scientific expertise, philosophy is a counterweight very quickly felt as indispensable and an irreplaceable help for their quest for intelligibility.

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