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anthropology and medicine

anthropology and medicine - ANTHROPOLOGY A N D T H E T H E...

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ANTHROPOLOGY AND THE THEORY OF MEDICINE THURE VON UEXKOLL University of Ulm, Germany ABSTRACT. Instead of presupposing reality as the "realists" do, a geneti~c theory of knowl- edge attempts to understand scientific knowledge through the psychological origins of both the concepts, and the operations on which these concepts are based. Adopting the viewpoint of genetic epistemology, the envisaged theory of medicine will have to perform a threefold task: (1) A revision and reformulation of the psycho-physical problem and the development of a model for the living body; (2) A revision of our views concerning the relationship between humans and the inanimate and animate environment; and (3) The development of a concept for the construction of individual reality and its consequences for the patient-physi- cian relationship. Key words: genetic theory of knowledge, living body, patient-physician relationship, rela- tionship humans and (in)animate environment, the psycho-physical problem, theory of medicine I would say the following about a scientist: if he comes across a gap in our knowledge he will not flee into the supernatural. That would in fact mean panic, fear of the unknown, which we do not recognize as scientific] 1. THE QUESTION OF THE STARTING POINT The question whether the sciences have brought us closer to a solution of the great mysteries of life and human existence cannot be answered unam- biguously. On the one hand, the sciences have given us insights which were hidden from mankind in earlier times. On the other hand, the question of man's nature and the meaning of life still pose more problems now than when religion provided answers that satisfied mankind. The uncertainty about ourselves, in turn, affects the value of our scien- tific knowledge, for it is we who invented science and it is we who pursue it. In order to answer the question concerning the validity of our scientific knowledge we must first answer the question as to the validity of the frame- work in which science was created. The origins of science promise an answer to this question, for the begin- ning, as Winnicot puts it, is our home. Since the beginnings of human history are known to us only in fragments, we must look to and question the early stages of childhood in order to gain knowledge about tile devel- Theoretical Medicine 16:93-114, 1995. © 1995 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
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94 THURE VON UEXKI~ILL opment of our questions and the methods we use to provide those answers. Only then can we avoid that we leap into the supernatural used to cir- cumvent our fear of the unknown. A "genetic theory of knowledge" attempts to understand scientific knowledge through its history, and more notably through the psycho- logical origins of both the concepts, and the operations on which these concepts are based. 2 Instead of presupposing reality as the "realists" do, a genetic theory of knowledge begins with the question: How do we arrive at what we call reality?
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