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Applying Habermasian “ways” of knowing to medical education

Paul Walker, Terence Lovat.

Different ways by which we come to know something, are usefully applied to the pedagogy of medical education. Jürgen Habermas described three “ways” of knowing. These are empirical-analytic knowing (data collection), historical-hermeneutic knowing (understanding of meanings), and self-reflective critical knowing. These “ways” of knowing have an epistemological basis, which is able to be traced from the classical and medieval epochs of philosophical thought. Given that doctor-patient interactions have a fundamental basis in morality, the three “ways” of Habermas can be applied to the pedagogy of medical education. This fosters a clinical practice characterised by life-long self-reflective learning. The beneficent action which follows, based upon self-reflection, and impelling the clinician to act as an agent of change, benefits both patients and clinicians. Understanding the importance of Habermas’ three “ways” of knowing, impels a re-balancing of undergraduate and post-graduate medical education curricula, which would foster a progression from empirical-analytic data collection, through historical-hermeneutic understanding of meanings, to self-reflective critical knowing as a life-long objective in clinical practice.

Key words: medical education, Habermas, reflective learning, epistemology

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