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Unit information: The Philosophy and History of Medicine in 2022/23

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing, student choice and timetabling constraints.

Unit name The Philosophy and History of Medicine
Unit code PHIL30082
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Grose
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Philosophy
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Patients, Panaceas and Placebos (The Philosophy and History of Medicine, PHIL30082)

If you get ill, you are very lucky that you live now rather than 200 years ago, when simple infections would often prove fatal, surgery was carried out without pain relief, and almost all illnesses were treated with blood-letting or medicines based on poisonous mercury and antimony. It might appear that current medicine magnificently demonstrates the triumph of applied science, but the truth of this claim is, in fact, far from obvious. This unit examines some of the metaphysical and epistemological questions arising from the history of the making of modern medicine. From the new hospitals of the French Revolution, through the “laboratory revolution” of the late-nineteenth century, to 21st century “evidence based medicine”. Philosophy of Medicine is an increasingly prominent area within philosophy of science and we will all have to engage with medical practices at some time in our lives. Prior knowledge of philosophy of science or biology is not assumed. Among the issues examined are:

• What is “disease”? Is it a purely biological concept, a social construction, or something in between?
• The changing nature of the concept of the patient.
• Revolutions in medicine.
• Evidence based medicine and identifying cause and effect.
• The metaphysics of pregnancy.
• Pandemic ethics: public health and private risk. (Note that we do not cover other issues in medical ethics in this unit.)

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to demonstrate:

  1. a deep understanding of central conceptual and philosophical issues within medicine, and their historical development;
  2. clear familiarity with relevant texts in the philosophy of medicine;
  3. the sophisticated skills in philosophical writing and argumentation appropriate to level H/6.

Teaching details

Lectures, small group work, individual exercises, seminars and virtual learning environment.

Assessment Details

Summative: 4,500 word essay - 100% (ILOs 1-3)

Formative: Digital presentation (ILOs 1-2)


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