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Eijk: Medicina e Filosofia

sexta-feira 25 de março de 2022

Van der Eijk, Philip J., Medicine and Philosophy in Classical Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Like Greek literature, philosophy, art, architecture and democracy, ancient medicine was seen as one of those uniquely Greek contributions to the development of European culture and humanity. ‘Rational’ medicine, based on empirical observation and logical systematisation, and devoid of any superstitious beliefs in supernatural powers intervening in the human sphere, was believed to have been invented by the Greeks and to have developed teleologically into the impressive edifice of contemporary biomedical science and practice as we know it today. (p. 2)


Scholarship has, of course, long realised that developments in ancient medical thought cannot be properly understood in isolation from their wider intellectual, especially philosophical context. But more recently there has been a greater appreciation of the fact that Greek medical writers did not just reflect a derivative awareness of developments in philosophy – something which led to the long-standing qualification of medicine as a ‘sister’ or ‘daughter’ of philosophy – but also actively contributed to the formation of philosophical thought more strictly defined, for example by developing concepts and methodologies for the acquisition of knowledge and understanding of the natural world. (p. 8)
On this view, one can safely say – and comparisons with other ancient medical traditions have confirmed – that Greek medicine, with its emphasis on explanation, its search for causes, its desire for logical systematisation, its endeavour to provide an epistemic foundation for prognosis and treatment, and especially its argumentative nature and urge to give account (logos, ratio) of its ideas and practices in debate, does show a distinctive character. (p. 9)
A further relevant point here is that what counted as medicine in the fifth and fourth centuries bce was still a relatively fluid field, for which rival definitions were continuously being offered. And ‘medicine’ (iatrike), like ‘philosophy’, was not a monolithic entity. There was very considerable diversity among Greek medical people, not only between the ‘rational’, philosophically inspired medicine that we find in the Hippocratic writings on the one hand and what is sometimes called the ‘folk medicine’ practised by drugsellers, rootcutters and suchlike on the other, but even among more intellectual, elite physicians themselves. One of the crucial points on which they were divided was precisely the ‘philosophical’ nature of medicine – the question of to what extent medicine should be built on the foundation of a comprehensive theory of nature, the world and the universe. It is interesting in this connection that one of the first attestations of the word philosophia in Greek literature occurs in a medical context – the Hippocratic work On Ancient Medicine – where it is suggested that this is not an area with which medicine should engage itself too much. It is clear from the context that what the author has in mind is approaches to medicine that take as their point of departure a general theory about ‘nature’ (phusis), more in particular theories that reduce all physical phenomena to unproven ‘postulates’ (hupotheseis), such as the elementary qualities hot, cold, dry and wet – theories which the author associates with the practice of Empedocles  , who reduced natural phenomena to the interaction and combinations of the four elements earth, fire, water and air. The polemical tone of the treatise suggests that such ‘philosophical’ approaches to medicine were becoming rather popular, and this is borne out by the extant evidence such as that provided by the Hippocratic treatises mentioned above. There were a number of medical authors for whom what we call ‘philosophy’ would not have been an inappropriate term to describe their projects – regardless of whether or not they knew and used the term. (p. 18-19)