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Cartesian dualism and the concept of medical placebos

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Although most medical writers would reject any suggestion that they are dualists, their attitude to the question of placebos often seems to imply a covert and no doubt unconscious dualism. The placebo concept is based on the idea that patients’ expectations and hopes are liable to influence their responses to treatment. Little is known how this effect is produced and there is a temptation to say, or to imply, that it is in some sense spurious or unreal. On a monistic view of the mind-body relation, however, the placebo response must be a neurophysiological phenomenon and therefore as ‘real’ as anything else, but many medical writers fail to follow this idea through to its logical conclusion and seemingly find it difficult to discuss placebos without falling into the dualistic trap.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 1994


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