Concepts of Health
Principal investigators: MM McCabe and David Papineau
Wellcome Research Fellow: Elselijn Kingma
Wellcome PhD Student: Silvia Camporesi
King's College PhD Student: Stefan Wagner
The value and integrity of our conceptions of health and disease have become pressing issues now that medicine does not only treat illness and suffering, but also responds to risks to individuals who are not ill, and promises treatment where there is not necessarily identifiable pathology. Conceptions of health and disease are problematic because we are not clear what sort of concepts these are. Are they biological concepts? If so, are they fixed, or do they evolve? If not biological, are they objective or subjective, cultural or natural? Nor are we clear about what these concepts describe: are health and disease a property of bodies and their material parts? Or does health unequivocally belong also to minds, to persons, to communities, to states, to other kinds of systems? In addition, we are not clear about the role of health and disease in systems of value, any more than we are clear about the nature of value in general.
The concepts of health and disease both straddle and connect many sub-disciplines in contemporary philosophy, from the metaphysics of identity, to the philosophy of science, to the meta-ethical questions of the nature of value. But they cannot be divorced from the ways in which health and disease are experienced and understood – philosophy does not and should not work in isolation. As a consequence the present proposal offers an ideal opportunity for a philosophical account of health and disease to be informed and challenged by work on the nature and experience of health and disease. At the same time, we intend to offer to the other Humanities disciplines a reflective account of the concepts they invoke in thinking about medicine. What is the nature of subjective experience? What constraints are there on our understanding of identity? How are we to structure our account of health as a good, disease as an evil?
We shall develop the project in five annual stages, marked by a major conference and a public lecture. For each conference we shall publish (in the following year) the proceedings (Routledge is interested in publishing our output).
The first stage will be general: concepts of health and disease broadly understood. Each following year we shall focus on more detailed topics. ‘Health and Identity’ will bring metaphysicians and political scientists together with those in the Medical Humanities working on identity, both individual and political (especially the strands on narrative, on identity and on portraiture). ‘Bodies and Minds’ will bring together philosophers of mind and psychology with psychiatrists and health care workers, and will integrate closely with strands on distress and disorder and on psychiatric diagnosis. ‘The Hippocratic Oath: the Professionalisation of Health’ will address the gap between the perceived objectivity of the health professions and the subjectivity of our experiences of them. This will integrate especially with strands on distress and on nursing and identity, but will have connections with all the other strands. Finally, ‘Disease, Malfunction and Death’ will turn to the metaphysics of death and survival, and to how we imbue them with value; this will integrate especially with strands on illness narrative and on medical portraiture.
The general aims of the research strand are as follows:
To carry out a research programme in Concepts of Health and Disease, bringing the analytic resources of philosophy to bear on issues in medicine and health sciences.
To develop the systematic discussion of the concepts of health and disease in the context of the Medical Humanities.
To provide, for other Humanities disciplines, reflective resources for the analysis of health and disease.
The project develops in five annual stages, each marked by a full-day workshop that brings together philosophers and medical professionals in a true cross-disciplinary dialogue. The proceedings of these workshops will be published in special issues of the the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice.
September 2010 workshop - Concepts of health and disease broadly understood
The first workshop, in September 2010, was general: concepts of health and disease broadly understood.
Please click here for the workshop programme and the workshop report
March 2011 workshop - Personhood and identity in medicine
The second workshop, in March 2011, focussed on personhood and identity in medicine and integrated with the strand on illness narratives. Please click here for the workshop program and description. The report from the workshop is now online.
December 2011 workshop - Death
The third KCL Philosophy of Medicine workshop, on 9th December 2011, focusses on Death. Please click here for the workshop programme and description. The report on the workshop is now online.
September 2012 workshop - Bodies and Minds
The fourth workshop, on bodies and minds, will take place on 19th October 2012. This workshop will bring together philosophers of mind and psychology with psychiatrists and health care workers, and will integrate closely with strands on distress and disorder and on psychiatric diagnosis. If you have any queries relating to the workshop please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
April 2013 workshop - The Hippocratic Oath: the Professionalisation of Health
The fifth workshop ‘The Hippocratic Oath: the Professionalisation of Health’ will address the gap between the perceived objectivity of the health professions and evidence based medicine, and the subjectivity of our experiences of these. This workshop is planned for April 2013, and will coincide with the biannual Philosophy of Medicine Roundtable which the Centre for Health and Humanities will be hosting.
Concepts of Health Seminars
As part of the research strand a biweekly seminar with invited speakers is organised. Please click here for the seminar list.