Pierre Le COZ

– Qualified Professor of Philosophy
– Member of the National Consultative Committee for Life Sciences and Health,
– Teacher at the Marseille Faculty of Medicine, Ethical Medical Department

Evolution of the concept of health and the new religious movements

  • The porosity of the medical establishment to pseudo-therapeutic movements and cults is encouraged by several factors. In his introduction, Pierre Le Coz presents two: one factor is psychological in nature, affecting the medical world, and the other is cultural, common to all layers of society. The first factor is the suffering of healthcare providers who become receptive to the proposals put forward by new, alternative therapies and to the new powers they grant. The second is the triumph of “psychologism”, which attributes illnesses to psychological elements. This trend has generated a phase of modern life that sociologists have baptised “post-modernity” or “ultra-modernity”. Psychologism replaces the purely organic hippocratic concept of the idea of healthcare with the modern, globalised concept of a “healthy soul in a healthy body”.
  • Pierre Le Coz then placed this psychologisation in a historical perspective by showing the drawn-out stages of the transformation of hippocratic organic medicine into modern holistic medicine. This development is in fact very old, as it started at the beginning of the 17th Century with the advent of secular and rationalist modernity from which it came. This was mainly concerned with the effect of “treatment for ailments of the soul, wellbeing and the improvement of the human condition”. Pierre Le Coz illustrated his thesis by reading an excerpt from “The New Atlantis”, by the philosopher Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626). This told of all that medicine could accomplish in the future: not only would it conserve health, but also and above all fulfil human desires and grant well-being and happiness. This was a radical change in the representation of the human condition. We therefore pass from a Judeo-Christian condition of humankind, created limited by the original sin and awaiting celestial bliss, to a modern and rationalist concept of Man called to become a god released from all finitude and promised happiness on earth. The speaker also recalled the contribution made by the philosopher Descartes in this development: he called “Man to become his own master and possessor of nature”, as this is opposed to limits set by human happiness. The seeds of modern medicine at the service of both bodily and psychological bliss were therefore sown.
  • Pierre Le Coz then explained the determining role played by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and by the current advocates of New Age thinking in the recognition of this modern holistic medicine. In 1947, the WHO defined health as “no longer merely the absence of illness, but a complete state of physical and social well-being”. This definition goes beyond ontological bliss of religion to that of medicine and total happiness, up until then said to be for the hereafter and was now said to be life on earth. Marylin Ferguson, one of the main New Age theoreticians, approves of these upheavals completely. She writes about this definition of health by the WHO in her book “The Children of Aquarius”, saying it is a real cultural revolution and the same premises as “the new paradigm”, bringing an end to Christian civilisation and ushering in the Age of Aquarius – the New Age. He then stressed that the WHO definition aroused two types of reaction in healthcare providers: an unfavourable present and an “other” which is favourable. Here we find the extremist minorities who believe in the dubious position of the solely psychological origin of illnesses.
  • In the final part of his presentation, the speaker gave some examples of contemporary psychologisation of medicine. He cited the way that the French abortion law of 1975 was formulated: that abortion was not a right or a freedom, but was rather the culmination of a distressing situation requiring a medical solution. He also spoke of certain cases of euthanasia justified by the incurable nature of illnesses. He also spoke of sperm selection, justified by the desire to maintain balance in the family, and he went on to quote several acts of implanting embryos, permitted by law. These examples of the directions therapy is taking also raise the issue of limitations posed by this approach.
  • Pierre Le Coz concluded by recalling that modern medicine created confusion among therapists and psychotherapists because of its psychologism, creating a favourable climate for the rise of healers and gurus. He asked the fundamental question posed by medicine today: should it continue to aim for ontological bliss as stated by the WHO, or not?

    He went on to stress that the excesses of medicine – psychologisation and mechanisation – which, although opposed to one another, both lead to a huge mixture with healing cults promising ontological bliss: the first for the gaps it opens, the second for the reactions it causes

    The speaker then brought his presentation to a close by proposing a third way: critical rationalism, as espoused by Kant. This enables us to avoid departures from reason, other than the excesses mentioned above, towards arrogance and dogmatism.

Debate :

Some interventions caused Pierre Le Coz to recall that the rejection of psychology by the healthcare professional led to techno-science, whereas the unconditional faith in holism led to meta-medicine