Specific Medicine and attempts at a Theory of Cure

An intense discussion about the use of specific remedies in homeopathy. Can we have fixed remedies or specifics for fixed ailments? or do we need to individualize in every case?…

Hahnemann’s original name for homoeopathy was the doctrine of specifies-He always considered his remedies specifies-Difference betwixt homoeopathic and old-school specifies-Difference betwixt homoeopathic specifickers and purists- Names proposed for homoeopathy-Is homoeopathy the doctrine of specifies? – Sydenham on specifies-Bacon-Kopp- Stieglitz-Hufeland-Stapf-Arnold-Kurtz- Roth-Schron-Goullon-Wolf-Rapou-Dufresne-Watzke-Black-Homoeopathy is specific medicine-Explanations of the curative process- Hahnemann’s idea that the stronger disease over come the weaker- His first attempt at an explanation of what takes place-Fallacies of this explanation-Medicines act conditionally, not absolutely- Instances of insensibility to medicinal action-Medicinal action not stronger than disease-Cures effected by weaker, not by stronger irritations-Examples from Hahnemann-Irrelevancy of Hahnemann’s illustrations-His second attempt at an explanation of the curative process-Extravagance of this attempt-Refutation of it-Hahnemann conscious of the weakness of his theory-Rau’s polar theory-Attomyr’s botanic theory-Eschenmeyer’s latitudinarianism- Jahn’s increased reaction theory-Schron reaction theory- Hufeland’s similar theory-Theorie of the worshippers of the vis medicatrix nature-Dr. Sangrado.

In my last lecture I attempted to show you that the homoeopathic therapeutic law discovered by Hahnemann, in other words, the maxim that in order to cure diseases in the best possible manner we must select agents that possess an inherent power to excite in the healthy economy morbid states similar to those produced by the diseases we have to cure, was the logical deduction from the most generally received and satisfactory pathological hypothesis of modern times, and it is my intention in this and the next lecture to consider the chief explanations that have been offered of the mode of action of the curative medicinal agent when opposed to the disease in the organism. I shall commence by stating Hahnemann’s views, and follow with an account of the most plausible or popular explanations that have been given by his disciples.

But before entering upon this subject, I may advert to the name originally bestowed by Hahnemann on his system, viz., the doctrine of specifics, and inquire what he meant by that term.

We find that from 1796 to 1808 he employed almost exclusively the word specific to designate his system, and after the latter date meet with the term homoeopathic, but often in combination with specific, as specific-homoeopathic, or homoeopathic- specific.

The term specific, as applied by him to disease, has not the broad signification given to it by the older writers. Thus he says, in the Essay on a New Principle, etc., published in 1796, “I do not believe there can be a thoroughly specific remedy for any disease of such and such a name, laden with all the ramifications, concomitant affections and variations, which in pathological works are so often inconsiderately detailed as essential to its character, and as invariably pertaining to it.”

Thus he rejects the term as applied by the older writers to such diseases or names of disease a scrofula, gout, syphilis, ague, etc., for which names, as they include manifold varieties of disease, he does not admit there are absolute specifies. On the contrary, he states his belief that there are as many specifies as there are different states of individual diseases i.e., that there are peculiar specifies for the pure disease, and others for its varieties, and for other abnormal states of the system. (Lesser Writings, p. 306). Even in the last edition of the Organon (Aphorism 147) he talks of the homoeopathic remedy being the specific for the cure of disease.

Still, notwithstanding what Hahnemann had written in 1796, he does not seem to have been altogether guided by his own rules in the treatment of certain continued and remittent fevers and other typical maladies in 1789, (*See a paper published in they year in the Lesser Writings, p.382, et seq.) when he seems to have groped about, not without much fumbling and stumbling, until he discovered the proper specific remedies for these disease, very much after fashion of the specific-hunters of the old school, to which he still virtually belonged. Although I cannot be certain of the fact, yet it seems to me highly probable that it was not till after this period (1798)–consequently more than eight after his notable experiments with bark-that he commenced methodically to prove medicines in order to ascertain their curative powers; up to this period I should say his knowledge of medicines was entirely derived from the records of poisoning in allopathic literature, and a few desultory and unmethodical experiments on himself and friends.

I consider it necessary to enter at some length on the question of the specific character of homoeopathic remedies, because the employment of the term specific medicine by some of Hahnemann’s followers has given rise to the accusation, on the part of others, that they meant thereby to deny the law of cure similia similibus, and sought to bring back homoeopathy to the generalizing specific practice so-called of former times. But this is nothing more than one of those false accusations so apt to be engendered in the heat of controversy, and its absurdity becomes apparent when it is considered that the only way in which those who use the term specific medicine in preference to homoeopathy profess to discover the specific for this or for that case of disease is by experimentation on the healthy, and by the analogy of the symptoms so produced with those of the disease-a proceeding which removes them at once from the vague uncertainty and happy-go-lucky method (if method that could be called which was most unmethodical) employed by the old physicians for the discovery of their febrifuges, their anti-spasmodics, anti- rheumatics, antarthritics, and so forth, which each gained its reputation from having cured at one time a case or two of some disease which was sufficiently precise and definite as to be referrible to a class and species in the nosological table; but as the name is not nearly sufficient to give the indication for the employment of a drug, it usually happened that on the next occasion when it was tried, the case not being precisely of the kind in which it was serviceable before, though bearing the same nosological, appellation, the vaunted specific belied the expectations raised concerning it, and speedily fell into disrepute; and such is, in fact, the history of all the fashionable medicines of the cold school. It could not but happen in those experimental times, when everything was tired for every disease, that amid such blind and indiscriminate striking the right nail was occasionally hit upon the head, and a rapid and notable cure was effected.

If the lucky cure happened to be effected with a single remedy, or, as more frequently happened, a compound prescription, the fortunate practitioner, under whose judicious treatment the cure took place, made speed to acquaint his brethren that such a drug or such a mixture, pill, or draught was a wonderful remedy for such a disease. Now, the probabilities were that this feat could not be repeated from this description, for the chances were that in other’s hands the drug, and still more the complex prescription, could not be prepared nor administered in exactly the same way; and another circumstance that greatly tended to diminish the chance of a successful repetition of the cure was, that under every name of a disease were included many different varieties of diseases, for only one of which was the remedy suitable. The consequence of all this was, that though perhaps a few striking cures were actually made by the new remedy, so many failures took place that the once-vaunted specific gradually fell into disfavour and disuse We can scarcely mention a drug or a formula that has not had its daub of reputation, to which its night of neglect bears the same proportion as in northern regions the long night hears to the transient glimpses of sunshine in mid-winter.

Not of the character of such specific-hunters, but the very reverse of such, are those who have been derisively termed specifickers by their opponents, who usually arrogate to themselves the title of pures or Hahnemannians. Some difference there must be between the specifickers and the pures, else had they not formed themselves into two different schools. The difference does not, I believe, consist in any want of that spirit of individualization so necessary for the selection of the appropriate drug on the part of the so-called specifickers, but rather that they endeavour more than their rivals to bring the light of modern pathology to bear on the investigation of the morbid case, and seek to refer, when possible, the array of symptoms to the derangement of some particular organ or system; in other words, they endeavour to arrive at the pathology of the disease, natural or artificial.

R.E. Dudgeon
Robert Ellis Dudgeon 1820 – 1904 Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh in 1839, Robert Ellis Dudgeon studied in Paris and Vienna before graduating as a doctor. Robert Ellis Dudgeon then became the editor of the British Journal of Homeopathy and he held this post for forty years.
Robert Ellis Dudgeon practiced at the London Homeopathic Hospital and specialised in Optics.
Robert Ellis Dudgeon wrote Pathogenetic Cyclopaedia 1839, Cure of Pannus by Innoculation, London and Edinburgh Journal of Medical Science 1844, Hahnemann’s Organon, 1849, Lectures on the Theory & Practice of Homeopathy, 1853, Homeopathic Treatment and Prevention of Asiatic Cholera 1847, Hahnemann’s Therapeutic Hints 1847, On Subaqueous Vision, Philosophical Magazine, 1871, The Influence of Homeopathy on General Medical Practice Since the Death of Hahnemann 1874, Repertory of the Homeopathic Materia Medica, 2 vols 1878-81, The Human Eye Its Optical Construction, 1878, Hahnemann’s Materia Medica Pura, 1880, The Sphygmograph, 1882, Materia Medica: Physiological and Applied 1884, Hahnemann the Founder of Scientific Therapeutics 1882, Hahnemann’s Organon 1893 5th Edition, Prolongation of Life 1900, Hahnemann’s Lesser Writing.