chapter  5
22 Pages

The Cognitive and Social Authority of Medicine

In my society and many others where it holds sway, scientific Western medicine has both the cognitive and the social authority to describe our bodies to ourselves and to others. “Cognitive authority” is a term I borrow from feminist philosopher Kathryn Pyne Addelson (1983). It means the authority to have one’s descriptions of the world taken seriously, believed, or accepted generally as the truth. H. Tristram Englehardt says of this: “Medicine molds the ways in which the world of experience takes shape; it conditions reality for us” (Englehardt 1986, 15 7). Susan Sherwin, elaborating upon Englehardt’s view, says: “The reality that medicine creates is socially accepted; given the power and authority that are awarded to medical expertise, its reality is generally socially dominating” (Sherwin 1992, 191).