Professor Havi Carel - inaugural lecture

Professor of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy

This lecture took place on Monday 11 April 2016

The philosophical role of illness

Philosophical methods have been used to study illness for several decades. In this talk I reverse the relationship between the two, asking: does illness have a philosophical role? I suggest that illness modifies, and thus sheds light on, normal experience, revealing its ordinary and therefore overlooked structure. Illness also provides an opportunity for reflection by performing a kind of suspension (epoché) of previously held beliefs, including tacit beliefs. I argue that these characteristics warrant illness a philosophical role. 

While the performance of most philosophical procedures is volitional and theoretical, illness is uninvited and threatening, throwing the ill person into anxiety and uncertainty. As such it can be viewed as a radical philosophical motivation that can profoundly alter our outlook. I suggest that illness can change the ways in which we philosophise: it may shape philosophical methods and concerns and change one’s sense of salience and conception of philosophy.