, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 129-140

The Art of Perception: From the Life World to the Medical Gaze and Back Again

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Abstract

Perceptions are often merely regarded as the basic elements of knowledge. They have, however, a complex structure of their own and are far from being elementary. My paper will analyze two basic patterns of perception and some of the resulting medical implications.

Most basically, all object perception is characterized by a mixture of knowledge and ignorance (Husserl). Perception essentially perceives with inner and outer horizons, brought about by the kinesthetic activity of the perceiving subject (Sartre). This first layer of perceptual reality, the world of “open” perceptions, is the inescapable background for “every rationality, every value, every existence” (Merleau-Ponty). On an epistemological level a characteristic change of perceptual patterns in medicine was introduced by pathological anatomy (Foucault). The reference of medical perception to the dead body created the new possibility of “absolute” perception, allowing for more precise medical interventions, but at the same time coming into conflict with the open structures of “ordinary,” non-scientific perception patterns in everyday life.

On the basis of these distinctions, an analysis of the different perceptual patterns in medicine becomes possible. Such an analysis would be the task of a sub-field in medical philosophy that could be called “medical aesthetics” having as its goal an “art of perception” understood as a technique of adequately applying different perceptual patterns in medical practice.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.