In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Contemporary Philosophy of Medicine

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Edited Volumes
  • Springer’s Philosophy and Medicine Series
  • Journals
  • Encyclopedias and Organizations

Philosophy Contemporary Philosophy of Medicine
James Marcum
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0216


Contemporary medicine is fragmented in terms of approaches to what it is or should be, as well as to how it is or should be practiced. Approaches to the nature of medicine range from traditional logical and empirical accounts to humanistic and phenomenological ones, while approaches to its practice range from Evidence-Based Medicine to Patient-Centered Medicine. These approaches often involve different philosophical perspectives. For example, a reductionist perspective is foundational to standard biomedicine, whereas a holistic perspective is foundational to integrative medicine. In the present bibliography, entries on General Overviews, Edited Volumes, professional Journals, and online resources are listed initially, followed by different approaches to medicine’s nature and practice, ranging from the Logic of Medicine to Virtue Medicine. The bibliography concludes with entries on Medical Ontology, including Disease, Health, and Medical Causation, and to Medical Epistemology, including Medical Knowledge and Explanation, Medical Informatics, and Clinical Judgment and Decision Making. Finally, the bioethics and medical ethics literature has not been included, since it constitutes a separate field of scholarship in the philosophy of medicine.

General Overviews

Contemporary philosophy of medicine begins with the publication of Pellegrino and Thomasma 1981, with almost seven hundred citations, according to Google Scholar—impressive for a non-bioethical book. Since its publication, the frequency of introductory expositions has increased considerably—at least four within the past five years. The entries in this section represent not only general overviews of the discipline but also views from particular philosophical perspectives and with specific agendas. Culver and Gert 1982 utilizes philosophy to examine issues in medicine and psychiatry, while van der Steen and Thung 1988 provides a philosophical analysis of clinical practice. Wulff, et al. 1990 is a general introduction to philosophy of medicine. Tauber 1999 introduces philosophical issues in medicine from a personal perspective, especially using Levinas’s distinction between Self and Other. Johansson and Lynøe 2008 and Lee 2012 use philosophy of science to frame and construct a philosophy of medicine. Finally, Fagot-Largeault 2010 employs Georges Canguilhem’s work to explore ontological, epistemological, and ethical issues arising in medical care.

  • Culver, Charles M., and Bernard Gert. Philosophy in Medicine: Conceptual and Ethical Issues in Medicine and Psychiatry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

    NNNThe authors cover a number of topics facing the practice of medicine. The first topic involves rationality in medicine with respect to the philosophical analysis of medical concepts, including the concept of death. The topic of paternalistic medicine is discussed and even defended, within limited circumstances. Other topics include the nature of medical competence and of malady and illness.

  • Fagot-Largeault, Anne. Médecine et Philosophie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2010.

    NNNThe author, drawing on Georges Canguilhem’s Le Normal et le Pathologique (1943), discusses metaphysical commitments of modern medicine, such as the nature of disease and its etiology, epistemological questions with respect to the normal and pathological, and ethical challenges facing modern medical practice.

  • Johansson, Ingvar, and Niels Lynøe. Medicine and Philosophy: A Twenty-First Century Introduction. Frankfurt: Ontos, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110321364

    NNNThe authors frame the book in terms of the philosophy of science, initially discussing the notion of scientific fact, argument, knowledge, and progress. They then introduce a number of topics contextualized with respect to a clinical paradigm that envisions the patient in terms of mechanism. Finally, they discuss topics such as placebo and nocebo phenomena, including both clinical and research ethics.

  • Lee, Keekok. The Philosophical Foundations of Modern Medicine. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

    NNNThe author first covers topics in the philosophy of science, including reductionism, mechanism, and theoretical biology. Next, he discusses the patient as mechanism as well as the technological developments to diagnose and treat diseases. Finally, she covers nosology and the monogenetic conception of disease, and then proceeds to disease causation and random control trials.

  • Pellegrino, Edmund D., and David C. Thomasma. A Philosophical Basis of Medical Practice: Toward a Philosophy and Ethic of the Healing Professions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

    NNNThe book is a classic in terms of a general overview of philosophical issues involved in contemporary medicine and its practice. The authors discuss initially what constitutes medicine as a profession. They then tackle the moral nature of medicine with respect to individual and social ethics.

  • Tauber, Alfred I. Confessions of a Medicine Man: An Essay in Popular Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

    NNNThe book is partly autobiographical, but also profoundly philosophical in that the author wrestles with substantive metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical issues that face the everyday practice of medicine. To that end, he enlists especially Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophy to ground medicine as a moral encounter of Self and Other in which the physician has a fiduciary responsibility to benefit the patient.

  • van der Steen, Wim J., and P. J. Thung. Faces of Medicine: A Philosophical Study. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer, 1988.

    NNNThe authors address the philosophical themes that arise from medicine’s theoretical basis and from its practice. These themes include the relationship between medical science and its daily practice, notions of health and disease, the notion of medical cure, psychosomatic and biopsychosocial medicine, and alternative medicine. The authors also discuss the relationship of values to facts, especially in terms of normativism and naturalism.

  • Wulff, Henrik R., Stig A. Pedersen, and Raben Rosenberg. Philosophy of Medicine: An Introduction. 2d ed. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1990.

    NNNFirst published in 1986, the book is an introductory philosophical analysis of the values that animate and inform medical practice. Topics include the paradigmatic nature of medicine, medical empiricism and realism, medical causality, the mind-body problem, psychiatric naturalism, the nature of disease, medical sociology, and medical ethics. Besides an empirical or a scientific perspective of disease, the authors also approach illness from a hermeneutical perspective.

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