Doctor of Philosophy, Professor
Utrecht University (Netherlands)
This article discusses the notion of the art of medicine in the work of Galen of Pergamon (129 ‒ ca. 213). On one hand Galen propagates an exalted role and status for medicine as a veritable science based on unshakeable theoretical foundations and of equal standing to philosophy; on the other hand, he seems to operate with ‘lower’ notion of medicine, as based on experience but also as conjectural and fallible. It is argued that Galen’s concept of medicine can be shown to be more coherent than has been supposed (although not without certain inherent tensions) when it is considered in the light of methodological passages from both Aristotle and Plato. Of these, Plato, “Phaedrus” 270c‒d appears to have been of particular importance to Galen. This passage describes and comments Hippocrates’ method, thus linking Galen’s two great masters of the classical past, Plato and Hippocrates, as representatives of philosophy and medicine respectively. What is more, it adumbrates an ideal of scientific procedure in which reason and experience, logic and practical utility, have been combined in a way that suited (and helped shape) some of Galen’s most deeply held convictions about the nature and purpose of his art. The element of uncertainty and fallibility involved in its practice, i.e. in the treatment of patients, is due to built-in constraints of physical reality; it does not detract from the status of medicine itself.
Keywords: history of medicine, Galen, medicine as a science, medicine as an art, Plato, Aristotle