Sartre and the Phenomenology of Pain: A Closer Look


  • Jacob Saliba Boston College



Conventionally distinguished as a problem for medical professionals, experiences of embodied pain have prompted a significant set of themes and perspectives in the Continental tradition of philosophy. The discipline of phenomenology, in particular, offers thought-provoking approaches for understanding the fullness and diversity of living one’s pain in everyday life. In contrast to scientific practices that tend to take for granted the subjective structures of human consciousness in action, the phenomenological framework of lived experience offers profoundly subtle accounts for explaining how a person’s pain alters their ways of relating to themselves, to others, and to the wider world around them. In recent years, scholars of phenomenology have undertaken extensive research on the complex relationality between health and human consciousness, including the behavioral grids and existential textures that come with that relationship. Greatly influenced by twentieth century phenomenology, this new development in the scholarship has undergone three distinct waves. The first wave focused on the work of Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer to develop a hermeneutic of healthcare practice; the second wave incorporated Maurice Merleau-Ponty to understand illness from an increasingly carnal point of view; and the third and most recent wave has relied primarily on Edmund Husserl to construct the intentionality involved with the consciousness of pain.