Theoretical Medicine

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 201–226

Illness and the paradigm of lived body

  • S. Kay Toombs
Special Articles

DOI: 10.1007/BF00489413

Cite this article as:
Toombs, S.K. Theor Med Bioeth (1988) 9: 201. doi:10.1007/BF00489413


This paper suggests that the paradigm of lived body (as it is developed in the works of Merleau-Ponty, Sartre and Zaner) provides important insights into the experience of illness. In particular it is noted that, as embodied persons, we experience illness primarily as a disruption of lived body rather than as a dysfunction of biological body. An account is given of the manner in which such fundamental features of embodiment as bodily intentionality, primary meaning, contextural organization, body image, gestural display, lived spatiality and temporality, are disrupted in illness causing a concurrent disorganization of the patient's self and world. The paradigm of lived body has important applications for medical practice. It provides a fuller account of illness than does the prevailing reductionist Cartesian paradigm of body, more directly addresses the existential predicament of illness, and orients the clinical focus around the personhood of the patient.

Key words

Lived bodyEmbodimentIllness-as-livedBodily objectification

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Kay Toombs
    • 1
  1. 1.WacoUSA