Medicine before Science: The Business of Medicine from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment

By Roger French | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6

The crisis of theory

All the order of teaching is troubled and the doctrine of Physick is endeavrd and learned altogether preposterously and confusedly, without any certain method. 1

With these words Jacobus de Back reported the confusion in the schools at the collapse of traditional natural philosophy. He had taken his MD in Franeker in 1616, when medicine and natural philosophy were still sisters, as they had been throughout the Latin tradition. 2 But by the 1630s not only were philosophers seeing a battle between Aristotelianism and the mechanical philosophy, but within medicine some of the major doctrines of Hippocrates and Galen had been shown to be wrong. De Back felt the pull of old loyalties and declared that he still belonged to the ancient physicians; but clearly they were going to need another re-evaluation to show that they still had authority in a changed society.

How had this crisis come about? Rather than retell a traditional story of a revolution in natural philosophy, let us look at its relation to medicine from the point of view of the Rational and Learned Doctor, who still wanted to be successful.

____________________
1
The Anatomical Exercises of Dr William Harvey ... with the Preface of Zachariah Wood . . . to which is added Dr James De Back, His Discourse on the heart ... London, 1653; the English translation is of de Back's original discourse of 1648. For a view of the economic and political crisis in medicine in London, see Charles Webster, 'William Harvey and the crisis of medicine in Jacobean England', in Jerome J. Bylebyl, ed., William Harvey and his Age. The Professional and Social context of the Discovery of the circulation, Baltimore (The Johns Hopkins University Press), 1979, pp. 1—27.
2
Scholastics such as Pietro d'Abano used the phrase, derived from the well-known commentary on De Sectis by John of Alexandria (as we saw in chapter 3): philosophia et medicine duae sorores sunt. It was a famous dictum of the medieval doctor: see Cornelius O'Boyle, 'Discussions on the nature of medicine at the university of Paris, ca. 1300', in John van Engen, ed., Learning Institutionalized. Teaching in the Medieval University, Notre Dame, Indiana (University of Notre Dame Press), 2000, pp. 197—227. It is part of the rational and learned doctor's message about the nature of his medicine.

-157-

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Medicine before Science: The Business of Medicine from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Medicine Before Science *
  • Medicine Before Science - The Business of Medicine from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment *
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Sources *
  • Chapter 1 - Hippocrates and the Philosophers 9
  • Chapter 2 - Galen 34
  • Part II - The Latin Tradition *
  • Chapter 3 - Medieval Schools 59
  • Chapter 4 - Scholastic Medicine 88
  • Chapter 5 - The Weakening of the Latin Tradition 127
  • Part III - The Crisis *
  • Chapter 6 - The Crisis of Theory 157
  • Chapter 7 - Resolutions 185
  • Chapter 8 - Enlightenment, Systems and Science 222
  • Select Bibliography 260
  • Index 270
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