Against the Physicists / Physicians

  • Note the dates he lived, so this was several generations after Epicurus. There's an obvious relationship to atomism, but I am not seeing much specific and verifiable reference linking Asclepiades directly to Epicurus other than that. Maybe it exists - not sure.

    Asclepiades (Greek: Ἀσκληπιάδης; c. 129/124 BC – 40 BC[1][2]), sometimes called Asclepiades of Bithynia or Asclepiades of Prusa, was a Greek physician born at Prusias-on-Sea[3] in Bithynia in Asia Minor and who flourished at Rome, where he practised and taught Greek medicine. He attempted to build a new theory of disease, based on the flow of atoms through pores in the body. His treatments sought to restore harmony through the use of diet, exercise, and bathing.


    Asclepiades began by vilifying the principles and practices of his predecessors, and by asserting that he had discovered a more effective method of treating diseases than had been before known to the world. He decried the efforts of those who sought to investigate the structure of the body, or to watch the phenomena of disease, and he is said to have directed his attacks particularly against the writings of Hippocrates.

    Discarding the humoral doctrine of Hippocrates, Asclepiades attempted to build a new theory of disease, and founded his medical practice on a modification of the atomic or corpuscular theory, according to which disease results from an irregular or inharmonious motion of the corpuscles of the body.[6] His ideas were likely partly derived from the atomic theories of Democritus and Epicurus. All morbid action was reduced to the obstruction of pores and irregular distribution of atoms. Asclepiades arranged diseases into two great classes of Acute and Chronic.[11] Acute diseases were caused essentially by a constriction of the pores, or an obstruction of them by an excess of atoms; the Chronic were caused by a relaxation of the pores or a deficiency of atoms. Asclepiades thought that other mild disease were caused by a disruption in bodily fluids and pneuma. He separated illnesses into three separate categories: status strictus (too tightly held), status laxus (too loosely held), and status mixtus (a little of each). He also believed that there were no critical days of diseases, meaning that illnesses do not end at a definite time.

    Asclepiades' remedies were, therefore, directed to the restoration of harmony. He trusted much to changes of diet, massages, bathing and exercise, although he did employ emetics and bleeding.[6] A part of the great popularity which he enjoyed depended upon his prescribing the liberal use of wine to his patients,[12] and upon his attending to their every need, and indulging their inclinations. He would treat all his patients fairly and did not discriminate based upon gender or mental illness. He believed treating his patients kindly and amicably was essential to being a good physician. Cito tuto jucunde (meaning to treat his patients "swiftly, safely, and sweetly") was a motto that he followed.[13] This contrasted with the behaviour of other physicians who practised during his life time who it was said had a tendency to be uncaring and have a lack of sympathy towards their patients.

    He decried the efforts of those who sought to investigate the structure of the body, or to watch the phenomena of disease

    This statement seems very questionable. If true, then sounds non-Epicurean. If untrue, then calls into question the accuracy of the rest of the statements in this Wikipedia article. Either way, there's not much to go on here.

  • This is from Pyrrho's biography:


    Pyrrhonism flourished among members of the Empiric school of medicine, where it was seen as the philosophic foundation to their approach to medicine, which was opposed to the approach of the Dogmatic school of medicine.

    and here is the essay on the empiric school of medicine:

    which says, among other things:


    Galen noted that the Empirics approached medicine exactly as the Pyrrhonists approached the whole of life.[1] Many of the well-known Empirics were also Pyrrhonist teachers, including: Sextus Empiricus, Herodotus of Tarsus, Heraclides, Theodas, and Menodotus.

    The Empiric school said that it was necessary to understand the evident causes of disease, but considered the inquiry after the hidden causes and natural actions to be fruitless, because Nature is incomprehensible. That these things cannot be understood appears from the controversies among philosophers and physicians

    So I wonder if these controversies that the Epicurean founders were writing against were related to some of the writings of these thinkers in particular, and were against Pyrrhonism / Skepticism in general.

    In other words, if the empiric physicians did not believe that the body was governed by aspects of nature that were knowable, then they were unable to profit from scientific inquiry into the working of the body. Against this, the Epicureans could have argued that the "hidden" causes of dis-ease WERE knowable.

    Here, it would be VERY useful to see if Lucretius argued that germs existed. The article goes on:


    ... there are no new diseases, and hence no need for any novel methods of healing. If a patient had an unknown type of illness, the physician would not recourse to obscure knowledge....

    What matters is not what causes, but what cures the condition. It does not matter why a concoction works, only that it does work.

    Which, of course, is false. NEW viruses emerge, germs and viruses do mutate and evolve, and we are in the midst of a peculiar outbreak right as I write this!

    So the Epicureans would have argued against this that IT DOES MATTER what causes a disease, that knowing this can be a matter of life and death, and that knowledge about this will help us to avoid wasting time with false remedies.

    The Epicureans may have also produced a criticism of the epilogistic method developed by these physicians, which is defined as "a theory-free method of looking at history by accumulating fact with minimal generalization and being conscious of the side effects of making causal claims. Epilogism is an inference which moves entirely within the domain of visible and evident things, it tries not to invoke unobservables." - SO the Epicureans may have discussed methods of inference while arguing their case.

    Here is an essay on the Dogmatic School of Medicine. We would merely be speculating, but it would be interesting to imagine how the ideas of this school may have related to Epicurean doctrine.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words