Medical hermeneutics: where is the "text" we are interpreting?

Theor Med. 1990 Mar;11(1):25-8. doi: 10.1007/BF00489235.


The present paper is a commentary on an article by Drew Leder [1]. Leder identifies a series of 'texts' in the clinical encounter, emphasizes the central role of interpretation in making sense of each of these texts, and articulates ordering principles to guide the interpretive work. The metaphor of clinical work as textual explication, however, creates the expectation that there is a text somewhere to be found. Such an expectation invites doctors and patients to search for the text and runs the risk of conceptualizing patients as more static than they are. If one is to use the textual metaphor, one must appreciate the radical extent to which the clinical encounter is a mutually produced and shifting entity. The qualities of mutuality and indeterminacy are not those one usually associates with texts. One might ultimately be better served by a different metaphor based more directly on uncertainty.

Publication types

  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Philosophy, Medical*
  • Physician-Patient Relations