Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Spinoza and 21st-century medicine


I learned about the mind-body connection from the philosopher Spinoza. A holistic clinical approach emphasizes the relationship between mental well-being and physical health. 

Baruch (or Benedict or Bento) Spinoza was known as a philosopher’s philosopher. Bertrand Russell, the prominent English philosopher, wrote, “Spinoza is the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers.” Albert Einstein even wrote a poem “On the Ethics of Spinoza” (below). For me, Spinoza’s work sheds light on two important themes that are critical for current medical practice. The first is related to one of Spinoza’s famous quotations from his posthumously published “God or Nature.” The title puzzled me until I discovered that the “or” is a free translation of the Latin word “sive,” which means equivalence. So, Spinoza isn’t making us choose between God or Nature, but stating that they’re equivalents, meaning that God exists in all that surrounds us, in all of nature. This has tremendous significance not only for society, but for medicine, since it highlights that we human beings are interconnected to each other and everything around us. Nowadays, too often the art and craft of medicine remain hidden under a disconnected biomedical reductionist system in which the patient is often seen as the “client” or “customer,” and the healthcare professional is consumed by limited time and resources, electronic records, and boxes to be ticked. Both the doctor and the patient have become digitalizednumbers in a system.


In today’s world, a screen disconnects the doctor from the patient, who is also separated from the setting in which they live, their socioeconomic circumstances, and their particular life stories, which ideally should take center stage. I wonder how modern medicine might have developed if, instead of following the dictums of cartesian dualism, it had followed Spinoza, who opts for connecting man with the natural world. I believe that this might have led to a more holistic and inclusive approach to the practice of medicine, where the patient is seen as a whole and all of their complexities considered.  


The second theme running through Spinoza’s work is his emphasis on community. He affirmed that humankind can only thrive by working and living within a community, and in the 21st century, this seems to have been lost. This loss has resulted in an enormous rise in loneliness, which is one of the greatest social problems we face. It was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and is now seen daily in clinics around the world; moreover, it is a prominent trigger for many diseases. The former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote in his 2021 book, “Together,” that “Loneliness ran like a dark thread through many of the more obvious issues that people brought to my attention, like addiction, violence, anxiety, and depression.” I’m sure that Spinoza would have understood this sentiment, and perhaps his ideas would have brought some solace, and even a remedy, to an increasingly egoistic society.


In his book “Ethics” Spinoza wrote “The mind and the body are one and the same thing.” It’s crucial for healthcare professionals to understand the connection of the body and emotions. This can enhance patient care by fostering a holistic approach to medicine that emphasizes the critical importance of psychological  and mental well-being on physical health. 


On the Ethics of Spinoza, by Albert Einstein

How I love this noble man
more than words can say.
I fear though he will be all alone
in the beams of his sacred halo.

Do not put a poor little fella
On the sroad that leads to freedom.
Amor Dei does not appeal to such a person,
earthly life keeps him under a spell.

Height gives him nothing but frost,
Intellect is tasteless food to him,
property, wife, honour, and house,
fill him from head to toe.

Forgive me for thinking
on Münchhausen,
the only one who understood the art
to hoist himself out of the swamp by his wig.

You think, his example teaches us
the Ethics can offer man a grip.

But do not rely on appearances:
for the higher one must be born.










This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.