Summer 2024 - PHIL 302 D100

Topics in Epistemology and Metaphysics (3)

History of Medicine

Class Number: 4740

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    May 6 – Aug 2, 2024: Wed, 9:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    PHIL 201 or 203.



An exploration of philosophical issues concerning, e.g.: causation, time, modality, or the self; the realism/nominalism or realism/idealism debate; relativism; the concept of truth; naturalized epistemology; global epistemological skepticism or perhaps a 'local' form of skepticism such as skepticism about induction or about sensory belief. May be repeated for credit.


Selected Topics: History of Medicine

In this course, we evaluate beliefs and practices in medicine from the epistemological perspective of previous thinkers and cultures and leading into contemporary practice. Medicine is inescapably social and so we also address the influence of political, religious, and economic value systems on medical practices and beliefs.

Medical diagnosis over the course of history has typically relied on metaphysical beliefs about cause and effect: positing a cause of symptoms and predicting that a treatment will effectively alleviate them. Beliefs and understanding of biology and human physiology have also changed, shifted, and progressed over the period addressed in this course. Political status has historically determined whether a demographic group has been considered an appropriate object of medical research, with far-reaching epistemological consequences.

This course will be a historical survey, drawing on examples from approximately 2,500 years of texts in philosophy and medicine. In some cases, philosophy and medicine will be one and the same, while in others we work to draw out the relationship between medical practice and philosophical worldviews.


  • Build a narrative around the development of medical practice as it relates to philosophical views.
  • Understand how shifting attitudes towards empiricism have influenced the culture of medical practice.
  • Understand the respective and intertwined roles of scientific research and socioeconomic value systems as they have guided the principles and practice of medicine over the last 2,500 years.
  • Identify and engage critically with recent and contemporary approaches to medical diagnosis and treatment that are subject to the same sorts of epistemic conditions and sociopolitical influences as the earlier examples we cover.
  • Recognize the significance of these views in the context of contemporary medical research, political systems, and ambitions for progress in medicine.
This course is especially recommended to students interested in the health sciences, pre-medical studies, and public policy.


  • Reflections (submit questions on 5 of the lectures - 10 opportunities provided) 10%
  • Short assignments (4 assignments, two pages/~500 words each, 5% each) 20%
  • Paper (~12 pages) 35%
  • Project 35%



All readings will be provided.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at:

Department Undergraduate Notes:

Thinking of a Philosophy Major or Minor? The Concentration in Law and Philosophy? The Certificate in Ethics? The Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate?
Contact the PHIL Advisor at   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university.


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the term are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.