Test Cover Image of:  The Distressed Body

The Distressed Body

Rethinking Illness, Imprisonment, and Healing

Bodily pain and distress come in many forms. They can well up from within at times of serious illness, but the body can also be subjected to harsh treatment from outside. The medical system is often cold and depersonalized, and much worse are conditions experienced by prisoners in our age of mass incarceration, and by animals trapped in our factory farms. In this pioneering book, Drew Leder offers bold new ways to rethink how we create and treat distress, clearing the way for more humane social practices.

Leder draws on literary examples, clinical and philosophical sources, his medical training, and his own struggle with chronic pain. He levies a challenge to the capitalist and Cartesian models that rule modern medicine. Similarly, he looks at the root paradigms of our penitentiary and factory farm systems and the way these produce distressed bodies, asking how such institutions can be reformed. Writing with coauthors ranging from a prominent cardiologist to long-term inmates, he explores alternative environments that can better humanize—even spiritualize—the way we treat one another, offering a very different vision of medical, criminal justice, and food systems. Ultimately Leder proposes not just new answers to important bioethical questions but new ways of questioning accepted concepts and practices.

Author Information

Drew Leder is an MD and professor of Western and Eastern philosophy at Loyola University Maryland. He is the author or editor of many books, including The Body in Medical Thought and Practice and The Absent Body, the latter published by the University of Chicago Press.


“Leder here offers a truly creative and compelling study of the nature of distressed embodiment. He identifies one of the key culprits in the mistreatment of humans and animals to be the Cartesian-rooted notion that a fundamental divide exists between mind and body. This, Leder argues, often leads people to consider our own and others’ bodies as passive, commodifiable, machine-like, and/or alien. Leder’s descriptions and diagnoses of these problematic conceptions are truly eye-opening, and he offers rich resources for thinking anew the nature of embodied reality and the many ways we have for recuperating a more holistic relationship to embodiment.”
— Kirsten Jacobson, University of Maine

“Leder invites his reader to focus anew upon the distress, in its full measure of harshness and complexity, of those who find themselves ill. Their plight, Leder emphasizes, has not disappeared, no matter how scientifically enlightened or technologically effective medical practices have become. The investigations that follow offer the fruits of a lifelong engagement on the part of their author into how a phenomenological account of the body is crucial for (re)orienting medicine to its core missions of diagnosis, treatment, and healing. With a novelist’s eye for telling detail but a tone of intimacy with the reader that is uncommon for philosophical texts, he invites us into the philosophical equivalent of medical consultation and demonstrates that working out the paradoxes involved when living bodies are treated by other living bodies is crucial if medicine is to remain true to its charge of healing those who suffer.”
— James Hatley, Salisbury University

Audience: Professional and scholarly;