Cultivating moral medicine: Ethical criticism and the relevance of Richard Selzer to medical ethics education



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



In much of her work, and especially in "Love's Knowledge," Martha Nussbaum argues explicitly for the essential contributions literature can and, indeed, must make to ethical education. In supporting her case, Nussbaum draws heavily upon the thought of Aristotle and the literature of Henry James to affirm her emphasis on the “noncommensurability of valuable things,” the “priority of the particular,” and the “rationality of emotions and imagination,” each of which she deems essential to answer the Aristotelian question "How should one live?". In this dissertation, I undertake a project similar to Nussbaum’s, \r\nthough one more specific to the practice of medicine. Rather than investigate the general moral question of how one ought to live, I instead seek to explore how one ought to live as a clinician. In the first part of the dissertation, I undertake a critical examination of the arguments of Nussbaum and others who describe the practice of the ethical criticism of literature. Then, in the second part, I assess the relevance of these arguments to the practice of medicine through an examination of the writings of Richard Selzer, in an attempt to determine whether his work, and, by way of extension, other shorter works of literature like his, might contribute to the moral practice of medicine as effectively as Nussbaum asserts James might to the practice of living. Ultimately, I assert that Selzer's writings, by way of both the content and the form of his narrative, can indeed accomplish this end, contributing unique and essential moral truths to the conception of ethics fundamental to medical education and practice.



medical humanities, Martha Nussbaum, literature and medicine