Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 323–331 | Cite as

Illness as unhomelike being-in-the-world? Phenomenology and medical practice

Scientific Contribution


Scientific medicine has been successful by ways of an ever more detailed understanding and mastering of bodily functions and dysfunctions. Biomedical research promises new triumphs, but discontent with medical practice is all around. Since several decades this has been acknowledged and discussed. The philosophical traditions of phenomenology and hermeneutics have been proposed as promising ways to approach medical practice, by ways of a richer understanding of the meaning structures of health and illness. In 2000, Swedish philosopher Fredrik Svenaeus published a book where he proposes that the phenomenological hermeneutics of Martin Heidegger and also the reflections on health and illness of Hans-Georg Gadamer offer important ways to approach the nature of medicine. In particular, Svenaeus argues that the goal of medicine is to promote and restore health, and that health ought to be seen as “homelike being-in-the-world”. Unhealth, illness, consequently should be understood as a situation where a person’s “being-in-the-world” in characterized by that lack of the rhythm, balance and “tune” of everyday living that characterizes not “being at home”. In this article, Svenaeus’ position is briefly outlined. Questions are raised whether “unhomelikeness” is to be seen as a metaphor, and, if so, if it is a fruitful such. Furthermore, I discuss whether or not a discourse on health and illness in these terms may be misleading in a situation where the ontological presuppositions of Heidegger are lost out of sight and the popular understanding of health psychology predominates. I also approach the question whether Svenaeus’ assumptions may inadvertently lead us to an unjustifiably broad understanding of the tasks of medicine. It is finally concluded that Svenaeus phenomenological and hermeneutical approach is both interesting and promising. There are, however, several questions that ought to be pursued further, and the step from philosophical analysis to everyday clinical discourse may be unexpectedly long and risky.


Health Illness Phenomenology Metaphor Understanding Home Limits of medicine 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department for Health and EnvironmentUniversity of KarlstadKarlstadSweden

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