Putting the Ghost into Language: Cartesian Echoes in Contemporary French Medical Humanism

Matthew R. McLennan


This article offers a definition of medical humanism and identifies four key contemporary medical humanists in France. It then makes two claims about the historical provenance of their humanism. First, they define it in opposition to a process of iatric medicalization that they trace to certain conceptual errors made by Descartes. But second, they remain more Cartesian than they seem to realize because they accept Descartes's knotting together of humanity, ethics and language. By looking at Gori and Del Volgo, Roudinesco and Ricoeur, the author is able to show how French medical humanism repeats the Cartesian gesture of locating humanity in language - thus facing the problem of the moral standing of so-called "marginal" human persons and non-human animal persons. The author concludes with a call to radicalize French medical humanism in pursuit of a more inclusive medical "personism".


Descartes; philosophy of medicine; medical humanism; medicalization; Gori and Del Volgo; Roudinesco; Ricoeur

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/jffp.2018.809

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