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Chris Perrin

Observational and Conceptual Questions–What’s the Difference?

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I’m a physician, not a philosopher, although lately I’ve noticed that medicine and philosophy often interface, particularly in the realm of diagnosis. The difference between an observational v. a conceptual question is demonstrated by the questions asked during a patient/physician encounter. Patients experience unsettling symptoms and will ask their physician an empirical question, “What’s wrong with me?” The physician will examine the patient, gather more data, and transform the patient's question into a conceptual question “What is the diagnosis?” But on closer reflection, even that question could be regarded as an empirical question in that it is based on the physician’s observations seen through the lens of learned diagnostic concepts. This shows how easy it is to confuse observational and conceptual questions. Perhaps in this case a better example of a purely conceptual question would be, if the diagnosis is diabetes, “What is diabetes?” Even so, the diagnostic entity of diabetes has changed over the years as the result of scientific observations. Nevertheless, physicians must remember to first communicate their diagnosis as an empirical, not conceptual, explanation to their patient’s question.


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