Individuals and their environments in Georges Canguilhem’s philosophy of medicine

Chimisso, Cristina (2024). Individuals and their environments in Georges Canguilhem’s philosophy of medicine. Revue Internationale de Philosophie, 1(307) pp. 73–94.


Georges Canguilhem opposed positivistic medicine that sought to establish normality once and for all. By contrast, he placed individuals with their variations and subjectivities at the centre of medicine. On the one hand, he focussed on the whole individual, as opposed to their organs and tissues; on the other hand, he argued that an individual is normal only in relation to a given environment. In this paper, I shall argue that Canguilhem’s view of the normal as relative to an individual and their environment is still of great current relevance. At the same time, I shall argue that he neglected to develop some questions raised by his own philosophy. Notably, he did not fully analyse how individuals come to judge their own normality, and the social consequences of their judgments. Similarly, he did not consider that different individuals, and groups, have more power than others to shape their, and others’, environments. Canguilhem’s own holistic approach to human beings and their environments makes individuals’ judgements of their own normality a more complex question than he arguably acknowledged.

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