Classics Notes – Feb. 23/12
200 BC-200 AD was the period of Empiricists.
- Empiricists call themselves this because they base their work on experience (empeiria). Peira means
trial and error or experiment. They called into question the value of any hypothesis not founded on
direct observation. Empiricists accepted only evident causes (external circumstances/factors) as
valid and rejected hypothetical theories about hidden causes (internal factors). The Empiricists
focused on symptomatology (if the same symptoms continually lead to the same outcome, they could
conclude it is a disease entity), pharmacology (is highly based on experience), surgery, and
commentaries on Hippocratic surgical writings.
- There are different approaches to understand reality. People back then wondered if the universe is
ordered by reason or if it comes together by chance, or if atoms are floating around in void. These
ideas go back to pre-socratics. Some people thought it was best to take things as they are – these
philosophers are called skeptics. In medicine there is a similar situation. Hippocratic ideas were
based on speculation and analogy. In Hellenistic medicine, physicians could see what was happening
in body and this led to theories about how the body works. In medicine people are faced with
different theories. Physicians deduced treatment from causes. Up until now, in order to treat diseases
physicians had to know the causes of symptoms.
- Empiricists disagreed with this and thought that we could not really understand what’s happening in
the body. Empiricists called people dogmatists if they believed in a different theory in which there
are hidden causes. They believed that the idea of hidden causes is useless. They thought that we
should only base our treatment on observation and experience of what worked in the past. Their
treatment is based on three parts and is called the empirical tripod. 1. Autopsia – Is personal
observation you do yourself or see for yourself. The physician’s expertise (experience, empeira) is
based on trial and error experiments (peira) and subsequent repetition of successful treatments.
Physicians would try certain medications for certain symptoms and if it worked, they would
prescribe this treatment for the next person. It started out as a chance observation (tyche) or trial
and error and then it became experience and became part of medical art (techne). 2. Historia – Is the
recorded observation and experience of others. It is a collective memory of what had worked in the
past as a data bank for future use. Physicians wrote down what they observed so that other
physicians could see it. They were also interested in the surgical books from Hippocratic medicine
because this was not based on theory. They used the accumulated experience of other physicians. 3.
Inference from what has worked in similar cases – This is the transference of treatment of one type
of disease to another, of what has worked on one part of the body to a similar part of the body, or the
use of a similar remedy for the same ailment. They might encounter a disease that has never been
seen before, or they may not have the medication for treating something, so they should use a
treatment that they would use for a similar case. This is a form of analogy (would use treatment for a
new disease that is analogous to a treatment for a known disease).
- This passage was written by Celsus (1 c.