A new conception of medicine has been proposed in response to some of the problems of the modern Western model of medicine. In this paper, I posit the view that modern Western medicine takes disease to be a bodily deviation from normal species functioning. Such malfunctioning is regarded as of the physical and physiological kind. Other types of deviations such as psychological or spiritual deviations must be reducible to symptoms before they are regarded as a disease in medical terms. Hence, psychological or mental disorders resulting from social or religious values are not catalogued as diseases, and are thus left untreated. I argue, however, that although this situation needs correction, there is no justification for introducing religious doctrine as a category of disease. This paper examines the presuppositions of the normal species functioning criterion and recent trends in evidence-based medicine, and reaches the conclusion that the present Western medical model does not readily admit some of the diseases of the human psyche caused by disorders in culture and values.
Chinese medicine, which is grounded in a different culture and different values, takes a different approach to medicine. Chinese philosophy takes human beings to have the same source as the universe, and thus to represent the cosmos writ small. Disease is regarded as a disorientation of the bodily cosmos, and treatment is basically a restoration of the body and mind as a whole in harmony with natural cosmological operations. Chinese philosophy draws on Confucianism, Daoism, and the Yin-Yang School. Confucianism views empathy as unifying human beings with Heaven. Thus, in Chinese medicine the evolutionary process of the cosmos bears deeply humane and transcendental values. The correspondence between body and universe results in a conception of medicine as the operation of the principle of ren, or humanity. Accordingly, the physician is honored as a Confucian doctor, and medicine is seen as an art or humanity. Mental and psychological diseases can have independent sources, and should never be reduced to the physical and physiological. In the Chinese model, social, cultural, and value disorders are regarded as proper diseases, and can be treated as such. It allows full realization of the cultural factors at play in medicine.