Health and Disease
In all things relating to disease, credulity remains
a permanent fact, uninfluenced by civilization
—WILLIAM OSLER, M.D.
WHATEVER BENEFITS CAME to philosophy by way of Greek medicine, Greek medicine also received from the early pre-Socratic philosophers the impetus to emancipate the healing arts from magic and superstition. In this chapter, I shall explore some of the main facets of two theories of health and disease that most strongly influenced Greek physicians; namely, the humoral theory associated with Hippocrates and the eclectic theory of the best constitution associated with Galen. The pre-Socratic influence toward seeking the universal causes of phenomena in the natural order governed by lawlike, nonmagical forces (knowable to man through rational reflection and observation) was an influence unquestionably felt by the Hippocratic authors. However, I shall not stop to argue this point, owing both to the long digression it would entail and to the fact that scholars like Sigerist, Jaeger, and Edelstein, among others, have admirably secured this position and stand virtually unopposed. Instead, I shall be concentrating on the results of the general pre-Socratic quest for natural explanations; particular pre-Socratic philosophers will receive only the briefest mention. To promote continuity, Democritus, Plato, and Aristotle will receive additional exposure so that their theories of health and disease may be understood in relation to pertinent medical developments.
It is important to recognize at the onset that, while the doctrine of the four humors is widely presupposed or explicitly mentioned by the authors of the seventy or so