A History of Science
Tome I
Tome II
Tome III Tome IV

Book 4, chapter VII
Eighteenth-century medicine
The system of Hahnemann
Just at the close of the century there came into prominence the school of homoeopathy, which was destined to influence the practice of medicine very materially and to outlive all the other eighteenth-century schools. It was founded by Christian Samuel Friedrich Hahnemann (1755-1843), a most remarkable man, who, after propounding a theory in his younger days which was at least as reasonable as most of the existing theories, had the misfortune to outlive his usefulness and lay his doctrine open to ridicule by the unreasonable teachings of his dotage,

Hahnemann rejected all the teachings of morbid anatomy and pathology as useless in practice, and propounded his famous "similia similibus curantur"--that all diseases were to be cured by medicine which in health produced symptoms dynamically similar to the disease under treatment. If a certain medicine produced a headache when given to a healthy person, then this medicine was indicated in case of headaches, etc. At the present time such a theory seems crude enough, but in the latter part of the eighteenth century almost any theory was as good as the ones propounded by Animists, Vitalists, and other such schools. It certainly had the very commendable feature of introducing simplicity in the use of drugs in place of the complicated prescriptions then in vogue. Had Hahnemann stopped at this point he could not have been held up to the indefensible ridicule that was brought upon him, with considerable justice, by his later theories. But he lived onto propound his extraordinary theory of "potentiality"--that medicines gained strength by being diluted--and his even more extraordinary theory that all chronic diseases are caused either by the itch, syphilis, or fig-wart disease, or are brought on by medicines.

At the time that his theory of potentialities was promulgated, the medical world had gone mad in its administration of huge doses of compound mixtures of drugs, and any reaction against this was surely an improvement. In short, no medicine at all was much better than the heaping doses used in common practice; and hence one advantage, at least, of Hahnemann's methods. Stated briefly, his theory was that if a tincture be reduced to one-fiftieth in strength, and this again reduced to one-fiftieth, and this process repeated up to thirty such dilutions, the potency of such a medicine will be increased by each dilution, Hahnemann himself preferring the weakest, or, as he would call it, the strongest dilution. The absurdity of such a theory is apparent when it is understood that long before any drug has been raised to its thirtieth dilution it has been so reduced in quantity that it cannot be weighed, measured, or recognized as being present in the solution at all by any means known to chemists. It is but just to modern followers of homoeopathy to say that while most of them advocate small dosage, they do not necessarily follow the teachings of Hahnemann in this respect, believing that the theory of the dose "has nothing more to do with the original law of cure than the psora (itch) theory has; and that it was one of the later creations of Hahnemann's mind."

Hahnemann's theory that all chronic diseases are derived from either itch, syphilis, or fig-wart disease is no longer advocated by his followers, because it is so easily disproved, particularly in the case of itch. Hahnemann taught that fully three-quarters of all diseases were caused by "itch struck in," and yet it had been demonstrated long before his day, and can be demonstrated any time, that itch is simply a local skin disease caused by a small parasite.





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© Serge Jodra, 2006. - Reproduction interdite.