Coping with Existential Threats and the Inevitability of Asking for Meaningfulness

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Coping with Existential Threats and the Inevitability of Asking for Meaningfulness

ABSTRACT: How philosophy is educating humanity will be explained regarding an actual example concerning the new public health paradigm or health promoting research. The central point of reference is the discussion of the decisive substantiation of the work of medical sociologist, Aaron Antonovsky; his approach to salutogenesis is opposed to the usual approach of pathogenesis. Here, emphasis is put on "Sense of Coherence" (SoC). It will be shown that, in contrast to Antonovsky's original intention, the relation to the natural sciences and scientific medicine is sufficient to substantiate neither his central arguments nor the relation to the continental traditions of philosophy, especially to existential philosophy and to philosophical hermeneutics mentioned in his latest works. Therefore, referring to a prominent sociological representative of modern health science, means-end rationality is no longer able to assert its dominant position in this field, but must be legitimized by value rationality. Antonovsky's concept of SoC also inevitably includes the argument that methodologically oriented explanation (Erklären) of health related problems can never be replaced by sense-oriented understanding (Verstehen).

Facing the existence threatening and destroying experiences of mankind during the Nazi regime, during the numerous civil and other wars of our time, the medical sociologist Aaron Antonovsky put the question: "What is it that let a few people survive and even remain unexpectedly healthy despite suffering severely from fear, threats, starvation, and torture?" This made him the original and prominent promoter of the concept of salutogenesis, a concept which increasingly determines the political programs of WHO and its members as well as the movement of New Public Health, in contrast to the concept of pathogenesis, so well known and familiar in the field of medicine.

The required scientific dignity of Antonovsky's concept appeared to be assured by his reference to Clausius' concept of entropy and to core issues of the information theories, therefore assured within the framework of scientific realism and empricism. But the fact has been overlooked that in his last years the question of meaningfulness had gained priority of importance in substantiation of his salutogenesis approach. And exactly this brings him into contact with the continental european tradition of ancient philosophy, philosophy of existence, and philosophical hermeneutics, well known to himself, and mirrored in earlier and later titles of his works, e.g. "Health, Stress, and Coping" (1979) and "Unraveling the Mystery of Health" (1987).
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