Hippocrates (c. 460-377 BC)

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Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) is traditionally regarded as the father of medicine. The famous Hippocratic Oath was inspired by later admirers of Hippocrates and was not, apparently, his own work. Some seventy writings dealing with methods of diagnosis and treatment were attributed to the Greek physician in his own time; of those pieces, sixty survive, forming what is called the "Hippocratic Collection." Personal information about Hippocrates is lacking, although some has come down to us from contemporary writers, especially in Plato's Protagoras. Hippocrates' main contribution to medicine and Western philosophy was to discard supernatural explanations for sickness and suffering, turning instead to the rational application of human intellect to solve medical problems. "It is thus with regard to the disease called Sacred: it appears to me no more sacred than other diseases, but has natural causes from which it originates like other affections. Men regard its nature because it is not at all like to other diseases. And this notion of its divinity is kept up by their inability to comprehend it, and the simplicity of the mode by which it is cured, for men are freed from it by purifications and incantations." 1

Hippocrates was also among the first to regard the entire body as an organism. Plato referred to him as a famous Asclepiad (member of a family of noted physicians) who believed it impossible to understand the nature of a specific organ or body part without understanding the whole body.2 Hippocrates' method of diagnosis and treatment of disease first considered the proper function of the afflicted area, and then derived some clue as to the nature of the affliction. Because it was central to the functioning of everything else, Hippocrates saw digestion as the most important source of debility. He argued that poor diet produced harmful vapors in the digestive system that then permeated other organs and caused disease. Central to this method of diagnosis was Hippocrates' recognition that environment affects people. His belief that the body should be observed and studied "philosophically" forms the basis of modern scientific medicine.


[1] Hippocrates, The Genuine Works of Hipporcrates (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1939), p. 347. Emphasis added by Pierre Goodrich.

[2] Plato, Collected Dialogues (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), p. 516.


Works by the Author

Hippocrates, The Genuine Works of Hipocrates. Translated by Francis Adams. Baltimore: The Williams and Wilkins Company, 1939.

Hippocrates. Hippocrates. 4 vols. Translated by H.W.S. Jones. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1923-31.


The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.

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