Lecture Series

13 December 2021


One Interpretation of Classical Chinese Medicine

from the Standpoint of the Philosophy of Medicine


Keekok Lee


The lecture will explore the following themes:

  1. The Joseph Needham Question: Why did China not develop modern science, given that Chinese technological developments by the Ming dynasty were so far ahead of European developments? I argue that Needham has posed the wrong question. China did develop science, but it is not "modern science" as pioneered by the West since the 17th century, but a different paradigm of scientificity, from which flowed its own distinctive kind of technological developments.

  2. I will briefly explore the two different paradigms of scientificity in two aspects: their respective ontologies and their models of causality:
    (i) The Western Paradigm (until the advent of quantum physics in the 20th century) focuses on objects/things/entities, which conform to Newton’s three laws of motions (it rests on Thing-ontology); the Chinese Paradigm focuses not so much on things as on processes, that is, it rests primarily on Process-ontology.
    (ii) The Western Paradigm invokes the linear, Humean model of causality; the Chinese Paradigm is the non-linear model.

  3. Classical Chinese Medicine is put forward as an exemplar of the Chinese Paradigm of scientificity, both in terms of theory and practice including therapeutic tools, such as acupuncture needles. Its emphasis is not so much on structure (anatomy) but on functions (physiology); its key concept is Qi, or yinqi and yang qi to be more precise: the iconic symbol of yinyang embodies what I call contextual-dyadism.

  4. The Western model of medicine (today called biomedicine) is an exemplar of the Western Paradigm of scientificity, based on dualism, celebrating the concept of disease-entity (Thing-ontology) and the monofactorial model of causation, that is, one pathogenic factor (bacteria/virus/poison/prion/faulty gene), one cause leading to one effect. SARS-Cov-2 (the pathogenic coronavirus) is the cause of COVID-19 (the disease).

Prof. Keekok Lee is an Honorary Research Fellow at the faculty of humanities, University of Manchester, UK. She took early retirement in 1999 in order to concentrate on writing and publication, taught philosophy at the University of Manchester from 1966-1999; She was first appointed as Assistant Lecturer, then Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, and finally Reader.

Her publications (monographs and articles) cover a wide range of domains in philosophy: moral philosophy, political philosophy, social philosophy, philosophy of law, philosophy of science, philosophy of biology/genetics, philosophy of medicine, intercultural philosophy (Modern Western and Chinese (Daojia) Philosophy), intercultural philosophy of medicine (Modern Western and Classical Chinese Medicine).

Keekok Lee’s current projects include, (a) Epidemiology and the Present Pandemic, explored through the lens of different moral, political, social and cultural perspectives; (b) Moral agency and character-building in Chinese moral/social philosophy.

About Lecture Series

The Lecture Series is an annual event revolved around a theme curated and presented by Media Lab, inviting scholars and artists from different fields to engage in a dialogue between art, technology, and philosophy to explore critical issues in media studies.