Philosophical Perplexities

A philosopher looks at human life and its absurdities—with a smile.

Placebos, Truth and Paradox

Better to be deceived and made better?

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In the UK, a House of Commons body has recommended that homeopathy no longer receive state support - for the perfectly good reason that there is no evidence that the theory behind homeopathy has any validity.  However, it is recognized that it may have value as a placebo and hence helping some people to get well.  The idea, though, seems to be that patients ought not to be misled.

That, of course, leads to the paradoxical state of affairs.  Placebos can work; but patients should be told that they are taking placebos - the desire for transparency and honesty - and that usually reduces their effectiveness.

I wonder how many ill patients would prefer to be informed and remain ill...or rather trivially deceived yet be made better?  After all, how many patients worry about the theory behind prescriptions more than whether what is prescribed will make them better?



Peter Cave authors books on philosophical perplexities, lectures in philosophy for The Open University and City University, and chairs the British Humanist Philosophers' Group.


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