Medicine without Cure?: A Cluster Analysis of the Nature of Medicine

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 43 (3):306-312 (2018)
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Part of a symposium devoted to ‘Prediction, Understanding, and Medicine’, in which Alex Broadbent argues that the nature of medicine is determined by its competences, i.e., which things it can do well. He argues that, although medicine cannot cure well, it can do a good job of enabling people not only to understand states of the human organism and of what has caused them, but also to predict future states of it. From this Broadbent concludes that medicine is (at least in part) essentially a practice of understanding and predicting, not curing. In reply to this bold position, I mount two major criticisms. First, I maintain that the reasons Broadbent gives for doubting that medicine can cure provide comparable reason for doubting that medicine can provide an understanding; roughly, the best explanation of why medicine cannot reliably cure is that we still lack much understanding of health and disease. Second, I object to the claim that a practice is medical only if it facilitates understanding and prediction. Although Broadbent has brought to light certain desirable purposes of medicine that are under-appreciated, my conclusion is that he has not yet provided enough reason to think that understanding and prediction are essential to it. Instead of supposing that medicine has an essence, in fact, I suggest that its nature is best understood in terms of a property cluster.

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Thaddeus Metz
University of Pretoria


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