Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 75–93 | Cite as

Cultivating Medical Intentionality: The Phenomenology of Diagnostic Virtuosity in East Asian Medicine

  • Taewoo KimEmail author
Original Paper


This study examines the perceptual basis of diagnostic virtuosity in East Asian medicine, combining Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and an ethnographic investigation of Korean medicine in South Korea. A novice, being exposed to numerous clinical transactions during apprenticeship, organizes perceptual experience that occurs between him or herself and patients. In the process, the fledgling practitioner’s body begins to set up a medically-tinged “intentionality” interconnecting his or her consciousness and medically significant qualities in patients. Diagnostic virtuosity is gained when the practitioner embodies a cultivated medical intentionality. In the process of becoming a practitioner imbued with virtuosity, this study focuses on the East Asian notion of “Image” 象 that maximizes the body’s perceptual capacity, and minimizes possible reductions by linguistic re-presentation. “Image” enables the practitioner to somatically conceptualize the core notions of East Asian medicine, such as Yin-Yang, and to use them as an embodied litmus as the practitioner’s cultivated body instinctively conjures up medical notions at clinical encounters. In line with anthropological critiques of reductionist frameworks that congeal human existential and perceptual vitality within a “scientific” explanatory model, this article attempts to provide an example of various knowing and caring practices, institutionalized external to the culture of science.


Medical perception Phenomenology East Asian medicine Korean medicine East Asian notion of Image (象) 


Compliance with Ethical Standards


This study was funded by the National Research Foundation of Korea (Grant Number NRF-20141342).

Conflict of interest

Taewoo Kim declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Medical History, College of Korean MedicineKyung Hee UniversitySeoulSouth Korea

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