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.
medical education, Habermas, reflective learning, epistemology