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