The Body as A Field of Meaning: Implications for the Ethics of Diagnosis

  • H. Tristram EngelhardtJr.
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 40)


Evaluation, explanation, and the ethics of intervention are tightly intertwined in medicine, because medicine intrudes intimately into the minds, bodies, and lives of humans. As Jose Mainetti [2], Stuart Spicker [3], and Thomas Bole [1] show, diagnoses are evaluative because concepts of disease, illness, affliction, and deformity presuppose judgments about when the minds and bodies of humans fall short of physiological or psychological ideals. To identify something as a disease or illness is to judge that it is a state of affairs that fails to realize some view of how human bodies and minds ought to be. Circumstances are regarded as diseases or deformities rather than as interesting psychological, anatomical, or physiological variations, because they involve a pain or discomfort worthy of remedy, a lack of grace or form worthy of treatment, or a loss of a usual or generally desired human function. One invests labor in making a diagnosis not simply in order to know truly, but because one would hope to be able to avoid or mitigate some unpleasant state of affairs. In the case of prognosis, one wants at least to be able to plan for likely unpleasant future developments.


Moral Judgement Cosmetic Surgery Baylor College Severe Punishment Human Function 
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  1. 1.
    Bole, T.J.: 1992, ‘Anthropology and the Hidden Values in Diagnosis’, in this volume, pp. 123–127.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Mainetti, J.A.: 1992, ‘Embodiment, Pathology, and Diagnosis’, in this volume, pp. 79–93.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Spicker, S.F.: 1992, ‘Bodily Integrity, Trust-Telling and the God Physician’, in this volume, pp. 107–122.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. Tristram EngelhardtJr.
    • 1
  1. 1.Baylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA

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