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  3. The Human Genre Project

Egenis · Events

How phenomenology can augment naturalism in medicine

Seminar   26.02.2008






Dr Havi Carel, University of the West of England

Organised by



University of Exeter,Egenis, Byrne House,St Germans Road,Exeter, EX4 4PJ

Room no: GF7, Byrne House

Event details

Time: 3:30 - 5:00 PM

Long-term illness or disability redefines the relationship of the person to its world, and moreover transforms this world by altering and limiting it. As embodied persons we experience illness primarily as a disruption of lived body rather than as a dysfunction of biological body. But medicine has traditionally focused on returning the biological body to normal functioning, and has therefore worked from within a problem-focused, deficit perspective that ignores the lived body. Within this approach, the experience of the ill person is measured in negative parameters, i.e. how ill or impaired she is, while the experience of personal growth, adaptation and even health-within-illness is overlooked. I argue that a phenomenological methodology can enable the expression of these experiences, in order to give a more complete description of the altered relationship of the ill person to her world and develop a better understanding of her lived experience. According to Merleau-Ponty, human existence is embodied and defined by perceptual experience. A change in the body and in physical and perceptual possibility transforms subjectivity itself. In this paper I apply this phenomenological framework to long-term illness, in order to show that understanding the ill person’s world and not just her disease would not only provide a more complete account of illness but also pave the way to improved medical care. I discuss the ways in which the naturalistic view is advantageous to health professionals’ work; but ultimately, I argue, it undermines their attempt to provide care. This is particularly acute in chronic illness, where the naturalistic worldview is clearly inept. Through the particular case of chronic illness I hope to demonstrate a more general point about embodiment.

Further details