Theoretical Medicine

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 227–241

The temporality of illness: Four levels of experience

  • S. Kay Toombs
Special Articles

DOI: 10.1007/BF00489832

Cite this article as:
Toombs, S.K. Theor Med Bioeth (1990) 11: 227. doi:10.1007/BF00489832


This essay argues that, while much has been gained by medicine's focus on the spatial aspects of disease in light of developments in modern pathology, too little attention has been given to the temporal experience of illness at the subjective level of the patient. In particular, it is noted that there is a radical distinction between subjective and objective time. Whereas the patient experiences his immediate illness in terms of the ongoing flux of subjective time, the physician conceptualizes the illness as a disease state according to the measurements of objective time. A greater understanding of this disparity in temporal experiencing provides insights into the lived experience of illness and can preclude difficulties in communication between physician and patient.

Key words

disease illness meaning pain patient-physician relationship phenomenology temporality 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Kay Toombs
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBaylor UniversityWacoUSA

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