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What makes people healthy, wealthy and wise? The turn of the millennium has been distinguished as much by pessimistic recognition of the limitations of material abundance and technological prowess as by celebration of their undoubted benefits. In large part this pessimism has concerned medicine and health—and in particular the widespread sense that while modern medicine is, in a scientific and technological sense, able to do more for us than ever before, yet we are more than ever anxious about our health, the threats to it and doctors’s ability to uphold it.1 2 There is an uneasy gap between the biomedical understanding of human nature, health and well-being and, on the other hand, a non-scientific, personal, understanding of these matters that is grounded in personal experience. When we go to the doctor we seek help for experiential problems—that is, problems concerning how we feel or what we are able to do. Medical solutions are formally grounded in the scientific and technical, but we judge their success in experiential terms, because it is experiential problems that these solutions have ultimately to address.3
Even so, medicine’s solutions are often remarkably successful on their own terms: they often resolve the biological manifestations of our complaints. If our disappointment as patients seems churlish, this seems only to confirm the disparity between the scientific and the experiential stories about human nature, health and well-being. This disparity is of practical interest for the (perceived) success of modern medicine, but it is also of theoretical interest for an understanding of human nature and human flourishing—deep and enduring questions that are part of the “examined life” that, as Socrates reminds us, is the only form of life worthy of a human being.4
The examination of these questions had already begun in earnest in the burgeoning attention …
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