Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 75–93

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

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11013-016-9505-8

Cite this article as:
Kim, T. Cult Med Psychiatry (2017) 41: 75. doi:10.1007/s11013-016-9505-8


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) 

Funding information

Funder NameGrant NumberFunding Note
National Research Foundation of Korea
  • NRF- 20141342

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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