Illness, phenomenology, and philosophical method

Theor Med Bioeth. 2013 Aug;34(4):345-57. doi: 10.1007/s11017-013-9265-1.


In this article, I propose that illness is philosophically revealing and can be used to explore human experience. I suggest that illness is a limit case of embodied experience. By pushing embodied experience to its limit, illness sheds light on normal experience, revealing its ordinary and thus overlooked structure. Illness produces a distancing effect, which allows us to observe normal human behavior and cognition via their pathological counterpart. I suggest that these characteristics warrant illness a philosophical role that has not been articulated. Illness can be used as a philosophical tool for the study of normally tacit aspects of human existence. I argue that illness itself can be integral to philosophical method, insofar as it facilitates a distancing from everyday practices. This method relies on pathological or limit cases to illuminate normally overlooked aspects of human perception and action. I offer Merleau-Ponty's analysis of the case of Schneider as an example of this method.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognition*
  • Cost of Illness
  • Disease* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Philosophy*
  • Philosophy, Medical
  • Social Perception*
  • Thinking