Self-knowledge in and outside of illness

Editors: Dr  Tuomas Pernu (King's College London, Department of Philosophy, UK; & University of Helsinki, Department of Biosciences, Division of Physiology and Neuroscience) and Professor Sherrilyn Roush (Department of Philosophy, University of California, USA; & Department of Philosophy; King's College London, Department of Philosophy, UK)

Scope: Self-knowledge has always played a role in healthcare since a person needs to be able to accurately assess her body or behaviour in order to determine whether to seek medical help. But more recently it has come to play a larger role, as healthcare has moved from a more paternalistic model to one where patients are expected to take charge of their health; as we realise that early detection, and hence self-examination, can play a crucial role in outcomes; as medical science improves and makes more terminal illnesses into chronic conditions requiring self-management; as genetic testing makes it possible to have more information about our futures; and with the advent of personal electronic devices that make it easy for a person to gather accurate real-time information about her body.

It can be hard to get good information about oneself, and even harder to know what to do it. Sometimes self-knowledge is needed for a good outcome, but sometimes it is useless, or worse. For instance, breast self-examination can lead to over-treatment, learning that one has a predisposing gene can create a detrimental illusion of knowing more about the future than one does, and data about one’s vital signs can be meaningless if taken out of a context of interpretation. This collection explores how these and other issues play out in a variety of medical specialities.

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