Korean J Med Hist.  2005 Jun;14(1):32-50.

The Relation of Philosophy and Medicine in Ancient Greece

Affiliations
  • 1Department of Medical History, Yonsei University College of Medicine, Korea.

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to deal with two questions concerning the relation of philosophy and medicine in ancient greece. (1) Which influences had philosophy on medicine? (2) Whom did attack the author of On the ancient medicine? And (3) was his criticism right? (1) Philosophy's influences was twofold. (a) As early Greek philosophers had explained natural phenomena by natural elements without recourse to any supernatural god so authors of Hippocratic Works also had sought to explain diseases. They had replaced magical and religious medicine with rational medicine by virtue of rational explanation. This seems to have represented medicine's debt to philosophy. (b) Many medical authors primarily had studied the nature of human i.e. the basic constituents of the body since they had thought the very same to be causes of diseases. This aspect shows the conspicuous influence of philosophy. Because it was the nature of cosmos i.e. the source or basic constituent that early Greek philosophers had searched to explain cosmos and all natural phenomena in it. (2) On the other hand the author of On the ancient medicine attacks physicians that are influenced by cosmology of early Greek philosophers. The point of his criticism in Chapter 1 is that 'philosophical physicians' postulate one or two constituents of the body as the primary cause of men's diseases. Then are physicians that postulate various constituents free from the author's criticism? At least according to Chapter 20 it is not so. He seems to criticize physicians in general who proceed by the hypothetical method. He contrasts this method with the method of trial and error and asserts that this is of medicine but that is of philosophy. (3) Although this methodological separation was right in a sense at least the opinion of the author seems to be extreme. Because medicine can't be science if it does not make use of any hypothesis. And philosophical physicians or early Greek philosophers does not seems to be such dogmatic as the author thinks. First of all they did not exclude the method of experience. Their method was both empirical and speculative. They postulated some constituents by speculation based on experience and had a device to avoid danger of dogmatism that their theory might have It is critical thinking. It's obvious evidence is their various thinking concerning the basic constituents. The same is applied to philosophical physicians. Thus the harmonious relation of medicine and philosophy had seemed to be maintained in antiquity even though the author of On the ancient medicine attacked philosophical physicians so severely and attempted to separate medicine from philosophy.

Keyword

ancient medicine; religious medicine; rational medicine; early Greek philosopher; hypothesis
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