The lived experience of illness


People involved in this project

Principal investigator:

School Arts
Department Philosophy
Dates 01 December 2013 - 31 December 2013
Funder British Academy
Contact person Dr Havi Carel

More about this project

The experience of illness is a universal and substantial part of human existence. Like death, illness raises important philosophical issues. But unlike death, illness has received little philosophical attention. This may be because illness is often understood as a physiological process that falls within the domain of science, and therefore requires little philosophical attention. I suggest that it is necessary to supplement a naturalistic account of disease with an investigation of the illness experience perceived on its own terms, prior to its theorisation as a subject of scientific study. It is not enough to view illness as an entity in the world that can be studied with the tools of science. In order to fully understand illness it also has to be studied as a lived experience.

In this project I propose to carry out a comprehensive philosophical exploration of illness, providing an understanding of illness itself, as well as its importance to philosophy. This bilateral approach lies at the heart of the project. I argue that a philosophical analysis is essential to developing a full understanding of illness, and complements work in sociology, psychology, and healthcare research. However, I also argue that illness is a philosophically rich domain, which challenges central philosophical concepts such as our experience of space and time. It does so by bringing normal practices into sharp relief by juxtaposing them with cases of pathology and dysfunction. The project explores the claim that philosophy is necessary for a full understanding of illness, and that the study of illness is integral to a philosophical investigation of human existence and consciousness.

The approach proposed for the philosophical study of the experience of illness is a phenomenological one. Using phenomenological concepts such as being in the world, intentional arc, objectification, and uncanniness I develop a phenomenological analysis of illness, as well as demonstrating the contribution such a reflection may bring to our philosophical understanding of human existence.