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Medical Manichaeism

Toward an Augustinian Intervention


  • Austin L. Campbell

Austin Campbell, Harvard University, Committee on the Study of Religion, Barker Center, 12 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138-3879,


Medical discourse in the contemporary United States is rife with military metaphors. These metaphors have come under vigorous criticism over the last few decades but to no avail; the militaristic tendency has proven tenacious. This essay suggests that its tenacity stems, at least in part, from a dualistic understanding of medicine unaddressed by prior criticisms. For an alternative, this essay turns to Augustine of Hippo, balancing close readings of works that deal explicitly with medical themes—The Catholic Way of Life and the Manichean Way of Life (De moribus) and The Nature of the Good (De natura boni)—with a constructive approach. By adapting Augustine's privative account of evil, we can understand disease as a condition of loss and treatment as a task of restoration. This reconfiguration shifts the focus of our interpretive discourses from malicious invaders to a fuller affirmation of the lived experiences of those who are ill.