From time to time, I attend the meeting of a group of doctors who are interested in the philosophical foundations and implications of their work. The most recent such meeting was addressed by an academic philosopher on the subject of the Aristotelian conception of virtue. For some reason that I cannot now recall, the question came up in the discussion afterwards of whether there were human experiences so terrible that they were beyond the powers of medicine to assuage, or of doctors, at least qua doctors, to alleviate.

A former colleague of mine, a man of wide and cosmopolitan culture, held that there were not; in essence, that there was no human response that, at least potentially or in theory, fell outside the schema of pathogenesis, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. I held the opposite. I maintained that even the concept of diagnosis was, in certain circumstances, unseemly, diminishing, and demeaning. Life has depths...


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