Charles Taylor, Phronesis, and Medicine: Ethics and Interpretation in Illness Narrative

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 36 (4):394-409 (2011)
This paper provides a brief overview and critique of the dominant objectivist understanding and use of illness narrative in Enlightenment (scientific) medicine and ethics, as well as several revisionist accounts, which reflect the evolution of this approach. In light of certain limitations and difficulties endemic in the objectivist understanding of illness narrative, an alternative phronesis approach to medical ethics influenced by Charles Taylor’s account of the interpretive nature of human agency and language is examined. To this end, the account of interpretive medical responsibility previously described by Schultz and Carnevale as "clinical phronesis" (based upon Taylor’s notion of "strong" or "radical evaluation") is reviewed and expanded. The thesis of this paper is that illness narrative has the ability to benefit patients as well as the potential to cause harm or iatrogenic effects. This benefit or harm is contingent upon how the story is told and understood. Consequently, these tales are not simply "nice stories," cathartic gestures, or mere supplements to scientific procedures and decision making, as suggested by the objectivist approach. Rather, they open the agent to meanings that provide a context for explanation and evaluation of illness episodes and therapeutic activities. This understanding provides indicators (guides) for right action. Hence, medical responsibility as clinical phronesis involves, first, the patient and provider’s coformulation and cointerpretation of what is going on in the patient’s illness narrative, and second, the patient and provider’s response to interpretation of the facts of illness and what they signify–not simply a response to the brute facts of illness, alone. The appeal to medical responsibility as clinical phronesis thus underscores the importance of getting the patient’s story of illness right. It is anticipated that further elaboration concerning the idea of clinical phronesis as interpretive illness narrative will provide a new foundation for medical ethics and decision making
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1093/jmp/jhr032
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 23,217
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
S. Kay Toombs (1988). Illness and the Paradigm of Lived Body. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 9 (2).
Richard M. Zaner (1990). Medicine and Dialogue. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 15 (3):303-325.
H. Carel (2012). Phenomenology as a Resource for Patients. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 37 (2):96-113.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

21 ( #221,840 of 1,932,454 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

2 ( #332,988 of 1,932,454 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.