Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 179–193 | Cite as

From method to hermeneutics: which epistemological framework for narrative medicine?

  • Camille AbettanEmail author


The past 10 years have seen considerable developments in the use of narrative in medicine, primarily through the emergence of the so-called narrative medicine. In this article, I question narrative medicine’s self-understanding and contend that one of the most prominent issues is its lack of a clear epistemological framework. Drawing from Gadamer’s work on hermeneutics, I first show that narrative medicine is deeply linked with the hermeneutical field of knowledge. Then I try to identify which claims can be legitimately expected from narrative medicine, and which ones cannot be. I scrutinize in particular whether narrative medicine can legitimately grasp the patient’s lived experience of his or her illness. In the last section of this article, I begin to explore the potential usefulness of this epistemological clarification. This analysis allows for a further understanding of what is really at stake with narrative medicine, and thus to identify when it may be convenient, and when it may not. Furthermore, this clarification opens up promising new possibilities of dialogue with critics of the field. I conclude that narrative medicine finds its proper place as a possible tool available to mediate dialogue, which is at the heart of the clinical encounter in medical practice.


Narrative medicine Hermeneutics Epistemology Gadamer Personalized medicine 



The author would like to thank Sofia Lizza for her help in editing the initial manuscript and Daniel T. Kim for his helpful suggestions.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not rely on any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center of Interdisciplinary Researches in Human and Social Sciences (CRISES, EA 4424)Paul-Valéry UniversityMontpellierFrance
  2. 2.Espace Régional de Réflexion Éthique du Languedoc-RoussillonHôpital La ColombièreMontpellierFrance

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