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Contributions of Hippocratic medicine and Plato to today’s debate over health, social determinants and the authority of biomedicine


By exploring a competition for authority on health and human nature between Plato and Hippocratic medicine, this paper offers a fresh perspective on an overarching debate today involving health and the role of healthcare in its safeguarding. Economically and politically, healthcare continues to dominate the USA’s handling of health, construed biophysically as the absence of disease. Yet, notoriously, in major health outcomes, the USA fares worse than other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Clearly, in giving pre-eminence to healthcare, the USA is doing far less than it could to protect and improve health. Meanwhile, mounting evidence supports the view that health impacts of social determinants besides healthcare (eg, education) surpass healthcare in heft. Circumscribed shifts in the USA’s current frame will not suffice: what’s needed is a change in its overall template for addressing health. Unless this is widely seen, the sway of biomedicine will likely be reduced slowly, if at all. That biomedicine’s role in relation to health is raised increasingly as a question is a sign that its ongoing supremacy is not a forgone conclusion. But making the most of this opportunity requires appreciating that ‘How should health’s relationship to medicine be conceptualised?’ is not the most fundamental query that we need to pose. Through consideration of Hippocratic medicine and Plato, I argue that the most availing answer to this particular question can come only after exploration of three larger questions involving health’s status as a human good and its relationship to human flourishing. Exploration of the Greeks is, thus, valuable methodologically. What’s more, it supports today’s advocacy of ‘health promotion’, a perspective tying health closely to well-being that has yet to achieve the overall prominence that it warrants.

  • modern medicine
  • history of medical
  • Medical humanities
  • medical ethics/bioethics

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Data sharing not applicable as no datasets were generated and/or analysed for this study.

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