Existential phenomenology, psychiatric illness, and the death of possibilities

M Ratcliffe, M Broome

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingOther chapter contribution

11 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this chapter is to show how the insights of existential phenomenologists can help us to understand changes in the structure of experience that occur in psychiatric illness. We employ the term “existential phenomenology” to refer to a broad philosophical approach shared by various philosophers, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Martin Heidegger. It is more specific than “existentialism,” as one could be an existentialist without being a phenomenologist. It is also more specific than “phenomenology” and is often contrasted with the “transcendental phenomenology” of Edmund Husserl. However, it would be misleading to suggest that only existential, as opposed to transcendental, phenomenology makes a contribution here. Husserl's later phenomenology has also informed the interpretation of psychiatric illness and is often appealed to alongside largely complementary insights drawn from the works of Heidegger and others. For current purposes though, we will be focusing upon philosophers such as Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and especially Sartre, who are generally recognized as “existential” philosophers. Existential phenomenology encompasses a range of interrelated themes. A central concern of the current chapter, one that features in the work of Heidegger, Sartre and others, is the manner in which we find ourselves situated in a world that matters to us in a range of ways, a world where things show up to us as valuable, functional, interesting, enticing, threatening, and so on. Inextricable from this is an emphasis upon how experience is structured by a sense of our possibilities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Existentialism
EditorsS Crowell
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9781139015066
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


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