Philosophy curriculum responds to COVID 19

14 August 2020
Philosophy students to engage with cutting edge COVID-19 research.
We are learning from COVID-19 that building solid medical knowledge is not easy. In Semester 2 ‘Philosophy of Medicine' will focus on medical theories of knowledge to ask what constitutes good and bad medical evidence.

Never before has there been so much public interest in medical statistics and medical modelling. Many of us have been surprised at how hard it is for even the best qualified and best-informed experts to predict the effects of medical interventions. In fact, medical knowledge raises deep issues in epistemology and philosophy of science.

In the last decade the philosophy of medical evidence has emerged as a major new area of philosophical research.
Professor Paul Griffiths

In 2020 Semester Two the Department of Philosophy has revised the syllabus in PHIL3677 Philosophy of Medicine* to introduce students to this literature. The course will draw on expertise from the ARC Laureate project ‘A philosophy of medicine for the 21st century’, a group of philosophers based in the university’s largest biomedical research institute, the Charles Perkins Centre.

Much philosophical research has focused on distinguishing well-founded and ill-founded medical knowledge claims, and on identifying and analysing the differences between medical knowledge and other forms of scientific knowledge.

However, in the ancient tradition of philosophical scepticism, a group of so-called ‘medical nihilists’ have emerged arguing that even the best medical evidence gives little rational grounds for trusting the effectiveness of medical interventions.

While examining medical evidence in general, students enrolled in 'Philosophy of Medicine' will pay special attention to epidemiology and scientific modelling,  including

  • evidence hierarchies and ‘Gold Standards’ for evidence;
  • causation and causal inference in medicine;
  • the nature and role of scientific models;
  • medical decision making;
  • bias and fraud in medical research;
  • and, of course, medical nihilism.

The final third of the course will still examine the nature of health and disease, the classic issue in the metaphysics of medicine. But the first two thirds will consist of this thorough introduction to medical epistemology.

The Department of Philosophy believes that this will be of great value to our students across a number of disciplines, and hope it will encourage students majoring in Philosophy to continue on to a Bachelor of Advanced Studies, and for some to pursue Honours and Postgraduate projects in the philosophy of medicine, where many important questions will need to be answered in coming years.

* The Department is offering waivers to senior students from other faculties who meet the criteria to enrol in this unit. Please contact the unit coordinator for more information.  

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