Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice

The Myth of the Cave and the experience of illness

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Abstract In this paper, I will consider, from a number of philosophical and real‐life perspectives, what happens to us when we fall ill and what the experience of falling ill tells us about the nature of our being. I will take up the oft used Myth of the Cave from Plato's Republic and use this as a means to interpret the experience of falling ill. Plato gave us the allegory to show that what we think we know might not be all there is to know and that what we take for truth may not, at least, be the whole truth. I will argue that The Myth of the Cave provides an allegorical basis for coming to understand ourselves as finite and mortal through the experience of illness. We emerge from the dark safety of our everyday lives into the world of illness; this brings us up short as we come face to face with our own mortality. To make the argument, I will use examples from my own experience of illness and some of those other which have been recounted to me. I will also refer to the work of Havi Carel on illness and mortality, the conception of illness as leading to a feeling of not‐being‐at‐home with our bodies (unheimlich) discussed by Frederick Svenaeus, and Gadamer's notion of illness as a loss of equilibrium. Underpinning the argument throughout will be Heidegger's existential analysis of dying in which he discusses the experience of anxiety and the way that separates us from the world of involvements.

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