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Study information

Philosophy of Medicine

Module titlePhilosophy of Medicine
Module codePHL3122
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Stephan Guttinger (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module will introduce you to the key philosophical issues that arise in contemporary medicine and biomedical research. We will consider fundamental concepts and debates in medicine, such as the definition of health and disease, or the question of what counts as “good” evidence in medicine. We will also explore positions and ideas that take a critical look at Western medicine, such as “alternative” medicine. Finally, we will analyse new philosophical issues that artificial intelligence and Big Data raise for medical practice and research. The module has no prerequisites and is suitable for students in philosophy, as well as students in the social sciences.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module aims to provide you with the conceptual and theoretical foundations needed to critically analyse and assess medicine in the 21st century. To do so you will not only engage with key literature in Philosophy of Medicine but also with real-life case studies. The module will furthermore encourage you to think critically about contemporary medicine and its role and place in society.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. apply a broad range of conceptual tools to analyse the nature of medical practice and research
  • 2. distinguish and critically evaluate key positions within philosophy of medicine and relate them to broader debates within philosophy

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. apply philosophical reasoning comprehensively to practical issues outside of academia
  • 4. demonstrate a thorough capacity to analyse and critique arguments and positions

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. demonstrate ability to think, write, and argue logically through class discussions and written assignments
  • 6. reconsider your personal understanding of medicine and its place in our society

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content will vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following themes:

Fundamental concepts and issues:

  • Health and disease
  • Causation and disease
  • Evidence in medicine
  • Reductionism and Holism

Medicine with a critical lens:

  • Scepticism and “alternative” medicine – A non-Western look at medicine
  • Values in biomedical research – The question of objectivity
  • Controversial diseases

Medicine in the digital age:

  • AI in medicine
  • A new dawn? Big Data and the personalisation of medicine

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad
22128See notes for guidance

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activities22Weekly 2-hour lectures/seminars or 1 hour lecture + 1 hour seminar
Guided independent study4411x4h Reading and preparation for classes
Guided independent study 84 Independent research for written assignments84Independent research for written assignments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay outline750 words1-6Written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Critical paper appraisal351000 words1-5Written
Essay652000 words1-6 Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Critical paper appraisalCritical paper appraisal (1000 words)1-5August/September re-assessment period
EssayEssay (2000 words)1-6August/September re-assessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:


  • Boniolo, G. and Nathan, M. (eds), 2020. Philosophy of Molecular Medicine: Foundational Issues in Research and Practice. Routledge.
  • Broadbent, A., 2019. Philosophy of medicine. Oxford University Press.
  • Stegenga, J., 2018. Care and cure: An introduction to philosophy of medicine. University of Chicago Press.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Philosophy of Medicine; Disease; Health; Evidence; Personalised Medicine

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date