Opening Philosophy of Medicine to the Future by Integrating Historical Epistemology and STS

This course will focus on the epistemology of evidence-based medicine (EBM) and of precision medicine (PM)—but seen through the lens of two canonical figures of science studies and historical epistemology: Ludwik Fleck and Georges Canguilhem.

Both Fleck and Canguilhem studied (and practiced) medicine in addition to their philosophical work. How did this background inspire their thinking about science? How can their philosophy contribute to understanding the turn toward EBM and help to evaluate PM?

Topics and Questions for the Ph.D. Course

  • EBM was introduced as a paradigm change with explicit reference to Thomas Kuhn, but EBM shares its understanding of diseases with biomedicine, there is hardly any incommensurability. Perhaps EBM is better understood as a different "thought style," according to Fleck, and the turn towards EBM a socio-epistemic transformation?
  • EBM has quickly been accused to be "cookbook medicine," leading to a massive standardization of clinical practice by guidelines. Is this an inevitable process?
  • PM is envisioned as an overcoming of standardized health care, delivering individualized interventions. What differentiates sub-stratification (as currently practiced in oncology) from individualization?
  • According to Canguilhem, the organism does not only follow biological mechanisms but imposes its own norms upon its environment. Does his epistemology entail an individualizing perspective also for PM?

The two-day course will be divided between lectures, close readings of seminal writings, and intensive discussions of topics from EBM and PM. The course is aimed at PhD students in philosophy, but PhDs from other disciplines are also welcomed.

The complete schedule and curriculum will be sent to the participants separately.

Lecturer, Professor Cornelius Borck (Lübeck, Germany)

Cornelius Borck mainly works within philosophy and history of medicine and is director of the Institute for History of Medicine and Science Studies at the University of Lübeck. He has published on a broad range of topics, of particular relevance for this course are a paper on Fleck (StudiesHPBBS 35: 447-464, 2004), a co-edited volume on Canguilhem (Maß und Eigensinn 2005), his Medizinphilosophie zur Einführung (Junius 2016) and a recent paper on epistemic hierarchies in EBM (2020 in the volume Weak Knowledge). In 2021, he started a collaborative research project on the epistemology of integrating heterogeneous data for precision medicine in chronic inflammatory diseases.

Practical Info

  • The course is planned to take place in-person at Oslo University, Norway. We will take all necessary measures to keep the course safe. Digital participation is possible. Please consider that in case the pandemic situation would not permit in-person classes, the course will be postponed.
  • The course is 3 ECTS credits.
  • All participants must be present on both days of the course and complete the reading preparation in advance in order to benefit from the shared discussions. The participants are required to lead about a one-hour discussion session on one of the reading materials and submit a paper (2000-3000 words) that is marked as "pass." Deadline for submitting the paper: 15 May 2022.
  • The course is free of charge and includes dinner on the first evening. Transportation, accommodation, and other meals have to be arranged and financed by the participants themselves.


The application deadline is 31 Janury 2022.

The application should include a short description of the applicant and their research interest. Please specify in your application whether you plan to attend the course digitally or in-person. If you join us in Oslo, please let us know if you have any food restrictions. In case your research is strongly related to the course materials, there will be an option to present your work during the course and get feedback. If you are interested, provide us also with a title and a short abstract (up to 100 words) for your talk.

For Application submission and further questions, contact Yael Friedman:


Published Mar. 19, 2021 2:33 PM - Last modified Dec. 8, 2021 3:16 PM