Levinas and the patient as other: the ethical foundation of medicine

J Med Philos. 2003 Aug;28(4):447-60. doi: 10.1076/jmep.28.4.447.15969.


The thesis of this paper is that because the significance of Western medicine lies in its ability to enhance the health of persons within a society, the practice of medicine is foremost an ethic and only thereafter a science. In support of the priority of an ethical perspective in medical practice, the paper explores the socio-cultural nature of knowledge, upon which science itself is constructed. Next, it draws from Levinas' philosophy, which illumines the problem of ontological and epistemological priority. Specifically, it examines Levinas' rendering of the human face and of language, as they found the case for the priority of justice, or ethics. Finally, the paper offers the practice of narrative discourse as one solution that elevates the status of ethics within the institution of medicine and that has the potential to counteract the tendency in medical practice to employ a universalizing methodology based in science's power to control the human Other.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Health Services / ethics*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Philosophy*
  • Philosophy, Medical / history
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Suicide, Assisted / ethics*
  • Suicide, Assisted / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • United States

Personal name as subject

  • Emmanuel Levinas