New course bridges philosophy and medicine

The class will examine conceptual issues in medicine when it begins this spring.

Caitlin Anderson

A new philosophy class starting this spring will examine conceptual issues in medicine — delving deeper into how medical professionals know what they know. 

Called Disease, Diagnosis and Intervention: Conceptual Issues in Medicine, the class will be open to all students and focus on epistemological questions concerning how people know what they know. It will address how medical professionals know that certain treatments will work, and how they know the correct measures of evidence and the effectiveness of certain medical practices. 

“We rely on the decisions of the medical community on a daily basis, and those decisions are supposed to be well-justified,” said Alan Love, a philosophy professor who will be teaching the class. 

Classes on ethics in medicine or biology have been done in the past, but a class that asks knowledge-based conceptual questions of the field is new, Love said.

These conceptual issues have real implications for the public, not only for the students studying the course, said Michael Travisano, a professor in the University’s College of Biological Studies.

“Medicine is something we are all involved in,” he said. “How do you make more informed choices for even the simplest things [like headache medication]? That’s super useful.”

The goal of the class is to teach students better analytical skills when confronting news they hear about medicine and health practices, such as cancer breakthroughs, Love said. The class will focus on topics such as what counts as health versus disease and to what extent probability enters into the medical practice. 

“The class will give me the skills to critically analyze issues,” said Sandra Owusu, a senior registered to take the class who is studying to become a physician’s assistant. “It will help me gain greater understanding of what I will do in the medical field.”

A great deal of research Love has done involves conceptual issues in cancer research. Love said topics like this will be addressed in the course. 

Katherine Liu, a graduate student in the CBS who worked with Love and Travisano, said an example of conceptual analysis is varied perceptions between people in medicine. Varied perspectives on cancer and other areas of medicine can inform the finding of other solutions, she said. 

The class will include writing, which is common in a philosophy class but not so much in science-based classes, Love said. This shows the merging of the two to help students better grasp conceptual ideas. 

“It covers a dimension of medicine … that is very relevant for all members of society,” Love said. 

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Katherine Liu’s name. Her last name is Liu, not Lui.