Theories of Health and Disease

  • Paul Carrick
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 18)


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 it is my aim to 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, non-magical 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. I shall be concentrating instead on the results of the general Pre-Socratic quest for natural explanations; particular Pre-Socratic philosophers will receive only the briefest mention, and some familiarity with their theories is taken for granted. Also, to promote continuity in the account I am about to give, Democritus, Plato, and Aristotle will receive additional exposure so that their theories of health and disease may at least be glimpsed in relation to pertinent medical developments.


Natural Function Ontological Concept Humoral Theory Animal Spirit Greek Physician 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Edelstein, Ludwig: 1970, ‘Hippocrates’, The Oxford Classical Dictionary, ed. by N. G. L. Hammond and H. H. Scullard, 2nd ed., Clarendon Press, Oxford, p. 518. Hereafter abbreviated OCD.Google Scholar
  2. 18.
    Robinson, John M. (trans.): 1968, An Introduction to Early Greek Philosophy, Houghton Mifflin, New York, p. 221.Google Scholar
  3. 27.
    See Solmsen, Friedrich: 1957, The Vital Heat, the Inborn Pneuma and the Aether’, The Journal of Hellenic Studies 77, 119–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 36.
    Neuburger, M. (trans.): 1910, History of Medicine, Oxford University Press, London, cited by Gordon, ibid., p. 706.Google Scholar
  5. 37.
    Penella, Robert J. and Hall, Thomas S. 1973, Galen’s “On the Best Constitution of Our Body”. Introduction, Translation, and Notes, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 47, No. 4, 283.Google Scholar
  6. 46.
    Kudlien, Fridolf: 1973, The Old Greek Concept of “Relative Health”, Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences 9, 58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Carrick
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

Personalised recommendations