Illness, phenomenology, and philosophical method

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper 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 therefore overlooked structure. Illness produces a distancing effect, which allows us to observe normal human behaviour 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-57
Number of pages13
JournalTheoretical Medicine and Bioethics
Issue number4
Early online date9 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Humanities Health and Science


  • phenomenology; illness; embodiment; pathology; philosophical method; Merleau-Ponty; Schneider; distancing; limit case.


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