Reflection by Alex Broadbent on N=1
One of the difficulties of contemporary philosophy is its relevance, or lack of relevance, to things that people apart from philosophers care about. The tendency in the last hundred years or so has been for philosophers to view their activities having no practical significance, with some schools of thought making this part of the definition of philosophy. Another line of thought, more implicit but present nonetheless, is that there is a trade of between applicability and philosophical rigour.
The January 2016 CauseHealth event was an excellent demonstration of the misguidedness of both lines of thought, and a symptom of a wider tendency among philosophers of science to seek meaningful interaction with the outside world (regardless of whether we can show it exists). Personally I was massively impressed by the depth of interdisciplinary conversation, and reminded, again, of the fact that good philosophical thinking is found among reflective persons in many disciplines and not just among professional philosophers. In two days we mixed the most abstract of topics, such as classification, the metaphysics of causation, and the nature of health, with sharply applied questions: Should pregnant women have access to more medications? Can treatment of low back pain be ameliorated with different ways of describing causal and historical information?
This kind of thinking is demanding for everyone involved, since nobody is within their comfort zone. This event was notable for its convivial atmosphere as well as its intellectual excitement. If the project continues to deliver events of this quality then it is in a good position to make a real contribution to both our medical and our philosophical knowledge.