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3rd Unit : 1st Study Group Session

"A Theory of Life for Pain: An Introduction to the Medical Anthropology of Viktor von Weizsacker"

3rd Unit : 1st Study Group Session   The 3rd Unit Study Group Session met on July 25, 2013, at Hakusan Campus, Toyo University. The presenter was University of Hyogo Prof. Maruhashi Yutaka, who spoke on the topic of “A Theory of Life for Pain: An Introduction to the Medical Anthropology of Viktor von Weizsacker.”

   The Thursday meeting was a small but substantial session that went on longer than expected, with questions and exchanges on such topics as the relationship between Nishida Kitaro and the 20th-century German philosopher of medicine, as well as the Christian elements that form the background to the latter’s thought.

   Prof. Maruhashi cited an anecdote that Weizsacker related in his work “Die Schmerzen” [The Pains] (1926, in: Viktor von Weizsacker, Gesammelte Schriften, Bd.5, 27-47) as supplying the essence for his own talk. In that work, Weizsacker related the story of a young sister who had seen her young brother suffering from pain and in the process discovered one of the pathways that would lead to knowledge. In fact, it was literally her hand that discovered the path in a way that spoke volumes. What she did was to pat him, and as she did so she would try to touch those parts of him that were hurting. In so doing, the little Samaritan girl became the first physician. Whatever it was in her that preceded any knowledge of some basic effect operated unconsciously within her, and directed the workings in her heart toward her hand and in turn led that to a touch that proved effective. We can say this because the touch of her hand seems to have been something that the boy experienced,that is to say,her hand made him feel better.The sensation of being touched by her hand entered into the space between him and his pain, and the pain receded in the face of this new sensation. Thus, as Maruhashi explained, Weizsacker argues that this created the first concept of a physician as well as the first method for curing someone.

3rd Unit : 1st Study Group Session   Weizsacker, then, finds the first act of curing in this young Samaritan girl’s on-the-spot experience. And he knows by intuition that the act of curing is something close to what lies at the point of origin-- that is to say, is an essential something-- and attempts to discern in that action-based experience some unchanging eternal essence of the doctor-patient relationship which goes beyond the varieties of eras and persons, and their experiences and illnesses. The entirety of this text, Maruhashi asserted, represents an attempt to yoke the perception of pain to the aspect of relationships; in that event, there is absolutely no clear distinction between physical and psychological pain.

   “Die Schmerzen” is the second article included in Stucke einer medizinischen Anthropologie [Collected Articles in Medical Anthropology], a collection of essays that Weizsacker published early in his career. The collection contains, in a variety of forms, the origins of his ideas about medical anthropology. Influenced by Sigmund Freud and with a deep understanding of the history of Western philosophy, Weizsacker wanted to construct a new anthropological science of medicine that would go beyond the limitations of medicine based on the natural sciences. Prof. Maruhashi’s presentation represented an attempt to carefully read and comprehend Weizsacker’s “theory of life behind pain” in line with “Die Schmerzen,” and while making reference to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s explorations into the “experience of pain”, reflect them back upon the significance of Weizsacker’s “theory of life for pain.”Prof. Maruhashi also sought to present an overview of the methodological language of “Medical Anthropology” that Weizsacker went on to develop.