Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, Vol. 30.2, Feb. 2009
This paper takes a phenomenological hermeneutic orientation to explicate and explore the notion of the grey zone of health and illness and seeks to develop the concept through an examination of the case of alcohol consumption. The grey zone is an interpretive area referring to the irremediable zone of ambiguity that haunts even the most apparently resolute discourse. This idea points to an ontological indeterminacy, in the face of which decisions have to be made with regard to the health of a person (e.g., an alcoholic), a system (e.g., the health system), or a society. The fundamental character of this notion will be developed in relation to the discourse on health and the limitations of different disciplinary practices. The case of alcohol consumption will be used to tease out the grey zone embedded in the different kinds of knowledge made available through the disciplinary traditions of medical science, with its emphasis on somatic well-being, and anthropology, with its focus on communal well-being. This tension or grey zone embedded in different knowledge outcomes will be shown to have a discursive parallel with the dialogue between the Athenian, the Spartan, and the Cretan in Plato’s Laws. Making use of the dialogical approach as described by Gadamer, the Athenian’s particular resolution of the tension will be explored as a case study to demonstrate the necessarily particular analysis involved in a grey zone resolution.