Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 301–311 | Cite as

The happy genius of my household: phenomenological and poetic journeys into health and illness

Scientific Contribution


In recent years limitations in the biomedical conceptualisation of health and illness have been well documented and a variety of alternative explanations produced to replace or supplement it. One such is Fredrik Svenaeus’s philosophy of medical practice, which is a development of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Martin Heideggers’ phenomenological and hermeneutical writings. This paper explores two texts, a short story by H. G. Wells, The Country of the Blind, and a poem by William Carlos Williams, Danse Russe to add further insight into the ideas proposed by Svenaeus. Both texts were written before either Gadamer or Heidegger published their work. Analysis of the texts reveal examples of Heidegger’s understanding of ‘da-sein’, human-being, as the fundamental of human existence—how we relate to our ‘life-world’—together with its conditions including the tools we use to engage with and the moods that interpret the world. Emerging from this core relationship of being are the phenomena of health and illness, which are conceptualised as home-like (Heimischkeit) and un-home-like (Unheimlichkeit) being-in-the-world. In the texts the sense of home-like (and un-home-like) being is an ontological ‘web of significance’, to use Heidegger’s phrase, that creates, rather than results from a person’s psychological state. One factor that is not fully explicated in the philosophical accounts is the role that behaviour (as the physical-relating of a person) plays as a pre-requisite for agency, the ability to act in taken-for-granted ways. A person’s sense of authenticity, the extent to which someone makes their own choices rather than being led by what ‘others’ say, is linked with their ability to physically engage with and relate to their ‘life-world’. Finally, similarities between the ontological wholeness of poetry—the meaning structure of poetry—and of Dasein are noted.


Dasein Home-likeness Unhome-likeness Svenaeus Heidegger Gadamer Concept of health 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Osteopathy and Philosophy, British School of OsteopathyUniversity of BedfordshireLondonUK

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