"Isn't All of Oncology Hermeneutic?"


  • Nancy J Moules University of Calgary
  • David W Jardine University of Calgary
  • Graham P McCaffrey University of Calgary
  • Christopher B Brown University of Calgary




childhood cancer, Gadamer, hermeneutics, pediatric oncology, Robert Buckman


In this paper, we describe an event during a pediatric oncology research meeting that prompted the discussion of the ways in which hermeneutics brings a different kind of understanding to both research and practice. We claim that oncology is the practical science of handling natural science research and as such practice in oncology is deeply hermeneutic in character in its recognition of the importance, vitality, and generativity of the “individual case†even in the face of amassed, verified, and aggregate knowledge that is given from the natural science research. Oncology is always contingent, next case handling, and is not identifiable simply as something determined and guided by natural sciences alone. In the face of this, we propose that there is an obvious, profound, and natural fit of hermeneutic research in understanding the lives, relationships, suffering, and experiences that are affected by cancer.



childhood cancer, Gadamer, hermeneutics, pediatric oncology, Robert Buckman



Arendt, H. (1969). Between past and future: Eight exercises in political thought. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Buckman, R. (2005). Cancer is a word, not a sentence: A practical guide to help you through the first few weeks. Toronto, ON, Canada: Key Porter Books.

Bruford, W. H. (2010). The German tradition of self-cultivation: 'Bildung' from Humboldt to Thomas Mann. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Case. (n.d.). In In Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved from

Gadamer, H.G. (1996). Hermeneutics and psychiatry. In H.G. Gadamer, The enigma of health: The art of healing in a scientific age (pp. 163-174). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Gadamer, H.G. (1983). Reason in the age of science (F.G. Lawrence, Trans.). Boston, MA: MIT Press.

Gadamer, H. G. (1977). Philosophical hermeneutics. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Gadamer, H.G. (1989). Truth and method (J. Weinsheimer, Trans.). New York, NY: Continuum Books.

Gadamer, H.G. (2007a). From word to concept: The task of hermeneutics as philosophy. In R.E. Palmer (Ed. & Trans.), The Gadamer reader: A bouquet of the later writings (pp. 108-122). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Gadamer, H.G. (2007b). Hermeneutics as practical philosophy. In R.E. Palmer (Ed. & Trans.), The Gadamer reader: A bouquet of the later writings (pp. 227-245). Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press.

Jardine, D. (1992). “The fecundity of the individual case”: Considerations of the pedagogic heart of interpretive work. British Journal of Philosophy of Education, 26(1), 51-61.

Moules, N.J. (1999). Guest Editorial. Suffering together: Whose words were they? Journal of Family Nursing, 5(3), 251-258.

Pinar, W. (2011). The character of curriculum studies: Bildung, currere, and the recurring question of the subject. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

von Humbolt, W. (2000 [1793-1794]). Theory of Bildung. In I. Westbury, S. Hopmann, and K. Riquarts (Eds.), Teaching as a reflective practice: The German Didaktik tradition (pp. 57-61). (Trans. By G. Horton-Krüger.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Wallace, B. (1987). The stubborn particulars of grace. Toronto, ON, Canada: McClelland & Stewart.