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

Illness, phenomenology, and philosophical method.

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Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol, Cotham House, Cotham Hill, Bristol, BS6 6JL, UK.


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.

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