Medical Individualism: What Makes an Individual Individual?

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Recent times have seen a turn towards what can be termed medical individualism, that is, the theory that individual human beings, their pathologies and physiologies, are fundamentally unique and variable. This is especially evident in movements such as P4 and Personalized medicine that promise a science of the individual variability within health and disease. Despite these promising ambitions, however, it remains mostly an unfulfilled ideal, in part because these movements construe individuality through the lens of a summative and material holism that interprets individuality as a complex confluence of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. This article argues that if medical individualism is to be successful, it requires a solid philosophical foundation. By drawing on classical biophilosophy and philosophical anthropology, a theory of the individual as a “differentiated whole” is developed, which highlights individuality as constituted through both the totality of interdependent factors of a biological, phenomenological, and social kind and as a self with agency that relates to its own body and psyche. This alternative to a summative and material holism has three implications for the individual variability of health and disease, namely their nature as totalities, as conditioned by the norms of the individual, and as context-sensitive phenomena.
TidsskriftHistory and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
StatusAfsendt - 29. dec. 2022


  • Reductionism
  • Medical individualism
  • Personalized medicine
  • Philosophical anthropology
  • Health and disease
  • Contextualism