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Mapping the territory of person-centred care: ordinary language and philosophical methodology

Michael Loughlin


Fulford’s chapter discusses the conceptual challenges facing person-centred care (PCC) and the role of philosophy in addressing these challenges. He is right that this role - to investigate underlying meanings and reveal assumptions - need not and should not be restricted to the search for definitions of key terminology. The methods of “ordinary language philosophy” enable us to understand the meanings of terms by systematically examining their use in context, with a view to mapping a term's “logical geography”. He makes effective use of this methodology to show that alternative accounts of what it means to be “person-centred” need not be contradictory and can indeed be fully complementary.

The approach of mapping the usage of the key terms is necessary if we are to understand the discourse, but it is by no means sufficient in gaining a coherent understanding of the meaning and value of PCC - let alone one that could provide the basis for its effective implementation. While it is true that distinct accounts can reveal different and compatible “aspects” of PCC, the language of PCC - like that of “evidence” and “ethics” - is not simply diverse, it is contested. Fulford argues that “genuine” PCC provides a proper balance between the “extremes” of paternalism and consumerism. This language is clearly normative, going beyond what he characterises as the “empirical” exercise of mapping usage. A broader inquiry, based on the distinction between philosophy as a body of theory and as dialogue, and incorporating a direct engagement with normative questions, is necessary if we are to address the challenges Fulford identifies.

The exercise of “mapping logical geography” reminds us that health discourse has no clear borders such that, by following its links to their logical limits, we will find ourselves inevitably in the midst of broader dialogues about the social nature of persons, the nature of value, agency and the basis for our obligations to one another.


Conceptual maps, dialogue, empirical, logical geography, normative, ordinary language, philosophical methodology

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