Medical Philosophy

? – I would like to talk about your new book „Medical Philosophy – Conceptual Issues in Medicine.“ – Your publisher writes: „probably the first medical-philosophical work, which systematically analyzes and discusses the basic concepts of medicine.“ For many physicia
ns and patients this title sounds a little irritating: Why does the medical domain need a philosophical discussion? What are pressing philosophical issues in the medical field?

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Mario Bunge:

The most urgent task for a iatrophilosopher is to spot and denounce the pseudomedicines, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and psychoanalysis.

But the most important tasks are (a) to find out and analyze the ways doctors think, and (b) to evaluate the ways biomedical researchers evaluate therapies.



?- What aspects of medicine urgently need to be transferred to the philosophical “ICU”?


Mario Bunge:

Medical diagnosis, the design and trial of synthetic (man-made) drugs, and the ambivalence of the medical-industrial complex, which stimulates the search for better therapies while at the same time corrupting some medical practitioners.



?- For whom did you write this book – is it necessary for readers to complete some semesters of philosophy to be able to understand your reasoning and to use your suggestions?


Mario Bunge:

Nein! Ganz im Gegenteil (in German), because in a couple of semesters you can learn who said what, whereas learning to philosophize takes a lifetime. My book is addressed to the biomedical researchers and practitioners who regard medicine as an exciting field full of holes and pregnant with surprising research opportunities – just like engineering and management science.



?- What is your vision for the future of medicine?


Mario Bunge:

Just a continuation of the scientific medicine born in the Paris hospitals around 1800, the German medical and pharmaceutical laboratories born around 1850, and the European public health schools and movements born around 1900. Medical breakthroughs, yes, but medical revolutions, no, thank, you, except in places where modern medicine has not yet arrived.


Personal Questions to the Philosopher


? – Where do you get your inspiration and fun to publish a book almost every year? How do you manage this workload?


Mario Bunge:

Just curiosity and the belief that I can be of help. To me, work is not a burden but my main hobby. This is why I always take work with me when I go on holidays. Moreover, that’s when new projects occur to me: while contemplating beautiful landscapes or seascapes.


? – By now you are professor emeritus – you reached this status at the age of 90 years, almost thirty years later than it is usual at German universities. How important was your learning and working with students?


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Mario Bunge:

It was very important, because young people often think out of the box and ask amazing questions. I miss that.



? – During my research I found out that you had founded a „university“as a young man. – Can you give us some background information – how this foundation came about, how you had organized this school? Where did your students come from?

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Mario Bunge:

It occurred to me that I had the duty to give society something in exchange for the free education I was getting. My Arbeiter Universität taught industrial workers and trade-union organizers. We offered courses in mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering, as well as in Spanish language, history, economics, and labor law.



? – You grew up in Argentina, where you have started your career – since the sixties of the last century you have been publishing your books primarily in English and for decades you had taught at a Canadian university. – Looking at this internationally active life: How important are your „South American roots“?


Mario Bunge:

My Third-World roots remind me that the vast majority of our fellow human beings live hungry, sick, and uneducated, and that most social scientists, even in that world, ignore that ugly reality. This is why my papers in mathematical sociology deal not with free choice among 30 flavors of ice-cream, but with social structure, social cohesion, and social marginality.


The Big Questions come in bundles!- End of part 5 – the last part of our interview
– back to part 4

Source of Mario Bunge’s portrait photos:
(youtube video by