Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Peter Godfrey-Smith

Committee Members

Jesse Prinz

John Greenwood

Subject Categories

Alternative and Complementary Medicine | Applied Ethics | Bioethics and Medical Ethics | Medical Sciences | Philosophy | Philosophy of Science


placebo effect, conditioning, expectancies, philosophy of science, pseudoscience, health disparities


This dissertation offers a philosophical analysis of the placebo effect. After offering an overview of recent evidence concerning the phenomenon, I consider several prominent accounts of the placebo effect that have been put forward and argue that none of them are able to adequately account for the diverse instantiations of the phenomenon. I then offer a novel account, which suggests that we ought to think of the placebo effect as encompassing three distinct responses: conditioned placebo responses, cognitive placebo responses, and network placebo responses. Next, I consider implications of the placebo effect’s role in complementary and alternative medicine for discussions of how to demarcate between science and pseudoscience within philosophy of science. Finally, I offer a bioethical argument that maintains that the neglect of the placebo effect within medicine may be contributing to an increase in health disparities along lines of race and ethnicity.



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