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Views & Reviews Medical Classics

Brave New World

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 05 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6672
  1. Julian Sheather, deputy head of ethics
  1. 1BMA, London WC1H 9JR, UK
  1. jsheather{at}

Throughout their histories, philosophy and medicine have pursued different ends. Medicine’s task was to alleviate our suffering; philosophy’s was to reconcile us to it. By and large this created few problems. Medicine, being ineffective, was little more than a ritual to distract patients until their bodies healed themselves or succumbed. During the 19th century things began to change. Advances in the natural sciences nourished the hope that humankind could free itself from the worst depredations of nature. Social transformation alerted thoughtful people to the possibility that societies might be made, not given; and if they were made then surely they could be remade. And in benthamite utilitarianism the social and natural sciences found their moral philosophy. Avowedly secular …

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