The Anthropology of Medicine: From Culture to Method

By Lola Romanucci-Ross; Daniel E. Moerman et al. | Go to book overview

18
THE EXTRANEOUS FACTOR IN WESTERN MEDICINE

LOLA ROMANUCCI-ROSS AND DANIEL E. MOERMAN

It has been noted by philosophers of science that the successes of "method" in the physical sciences were contingent upon a division of "physical" and "mental," with the relegation of the latter "to the limbo of a sort of secondary or epiphenomenal existence" ( Feigl 1953:612) and the existence of the physical accepted as a fundamental empirical fact. This mind-body problem particularly concerned Descartes, who tried to puzzle out how something nonspatial (thinking) could be causally related to spatial matter. With the enunciation of this problem in the seventeenth century we find the roots of modern science and medicine.

Descartes's influence is considered especially notable on the empiricist philosophers who insisted that epistemology should be the starting point of philosophy. Later, the logical positivists asserted that the meaning of scientific statements cannot be identified with their confirming evidence and that the meaning of a statement is the method of its verification ( Schlick 1925). In other words, a new concept is synonymous with the set of operations that determines its applications ( Bridgman 1927).

Logical empiricism developed into a phase that provided "logical" tools for reconsideration of the mind-body problem. As Feigl has pointed out, it is true that relations between indicators that can be evidenced (such as language, behavior, and neurophysiological data) must be interpreted in terms of "laws," and this would then make explanation and predication possible in a mind-body identity ( Feigl 1953:615). Postempiricists such as Husserl also tried to recapture the Cartesian mode; in the words of Williams, "the problems posed by Descartes' dualism remain at the heart of much contemporary philosophical inquiry (the work of Gilbert Ryle and Ludwig Witt

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