History of Medicine


An Open Access Journal

What does it mean to think clinically: from Hippocrates to the present day

One of the key problems of both the national and international history of medicine is that it is rather difficult to unify the three specialist communities, which in theory should be interested in the formation of historical knowledge about medicine.
The first of these three intellectual spheres is, in fact, doctors – who, unfortunately, are rarely interested in the history of their profession. Typically, an interest in its origins appears only with age and experience.
The second community is comprised of scientists, who are engaged in research in the field of philosophy and scientific methodology. Since the main part of the “paradigmatic” texts in this area use the history of physics and mathematics as examples, the specifics of the development of medical knowledge are often ignored.
Finally, the third group of researchers is the historians of medicine themselves, who are often far removed from both the practical side of the medical profession, as well as from philosophical research. As a result, the history of medicine often turns into a simple listing of great scientists’ biographies. To confirm this, simply open any university textbook on the history of medicine.
Only the joint work of the three groups of scientists can provide results in the field of basic and systematic research. If you look at the history of medicine from these three perspectives, absolutely amazing things for the history of science can be revealed. For example, physics, chemistry and mathematics researchers constantly resort to the term “scientific revolution,” “research programs” and “paradigm shift.” A look at medicine makes it clear that this science is characterized not so much by epistemological gaps, but by strict continuity.
Of course, medical technology is moving forward, and we are not preparing medicines as in the times of Galen and Dioscorides. However, technology is not everything. My colleague from France, Jacques Juan, very clearly defined the objectives of clinical medicine in the Hippocratic Corpus: awareness of the invisible based on indirect visible signs. But this is the goal of diagnosis nowadays – to receive reliable knowledge about the processes inside the body, hidden from the eye, on the basis of evaluation and critical analysis of the observable symptoms. And the knowledge is so reliable that the experience received on its basis becomes a reason for a pharmacological or surgical intervention in the body.
Moreover, the examination procedures for symptoms – testing, inspection, palpation, auscultation, percussion – are included back in the Hippocratic Corpus. Hence, the popular belief that the system of modern medicine was composed in the mid to late 19th century is not quite true. The inventor of the stethoscope René Laennec defended his doctoral thesis on the Hippocratic Corpus and the idea of auscultation was derived therefrom. And if you think a little bit and put aside the intellectual arrogance that stems from the availability of high-tech equipment, it turns out that medicine today exists not only in the framework of ethics proposed by Hippocrates, but in accordance with his founding guidelines in terms of methodology of knowledge.
This makes it difficult to rigorously extrapolate philosophical concepts that are used for the study of other scientific disciplines to medical history.


From 2021

The Journal is Published Twice a Year.

Founders of the journal

I.M. Sechenov

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