The physician is a collaborator with the vital forces tending to the recovery of health in every patient–Dr. M. Banuelos, University of Valladolid, Spain, Clinical Therapeutics, Vol. II, page 7, 1942. Vitalism one of the strongest pillars on which the axiom of Similia Similibus Curentur lies, is the highest philosophic theory of health, sickness and therapeutics.
This thesis was firmly propounded in all his works by the renowned Founder of Homoeopathy, Dr. Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann, an eminent physician, great clinician, linguist, philosopher, chemist, etc., who, together with his contemporaries, Skoda, Wunderlich, Rokitansky, Gall, Muller, Hufeland, Boerhaave, Stahl, Haller, Barthez, Bordeu, Bichat, Grimaud, Hoffmann, Cullen, Chaussier, Lordat, Lavoisier, etc., flourished in the nineteenth century.
Since it is impossible to enumerate in the present survey each of the different medico-philosophic theories from the beginning of medicine to the present day, I shall confine myself to mention those having great interest because of their vitalist substance in spite of their clearly materialistic precedence.
Hippocrates (460-370 B. C.), a great Greek physician and a descendant of the Asclepiades, who is regarded as the Father of Medicine, and a great philosopher endowed with a prolific, creative mind, founded the so-called “humoral” doctrine, recognizing vitalism with the name of “pneuma,” and established his therapeutics based on the axiom Natura Morborum Medicatrix.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), a renowned philosopher and Greek physician, called “entelechy” an intermediate force between soul and body and declared,” “The soul is the first act of the organic physical body, which has life in potency.”
Galen (131-201 A.D.), a great Roman physician and philosopher, of Greek birth, an Alexandrian by culture, and a Hippocratic in some some of his medical ideas, is considered to be the founder of scientific medicine in the Traditional School, and the Father of Pharmacy. His theory on pathology and therapeutics had as basis the pneumatic school, which was essentially vitalist, and he propounded his therapeutic law of Contraria Contrariis Curentur, that dominated the field of medicine until the eighteenth century.
Even in our own days the word “Galen” is sometimes used to mean physician. Paracelsus (1493-1541), physician, alchemist, astrologer, and a man of exceptionally queer personality, was one of the most terrible adversaries of Galen. He is regarded as the founder of chemotherapy. He admitted the Natura Medicatrix principle of Hippocrates and declared that chemical reactions and vital phenomena in living beings lie in an imponderable principle which he called “archeus.”
Van Helmont (1577-1644), who was later seconded by Franz Le Boe, known as Sylvius, established the iatro-chemical theory, which met some success in Germany, France, and England, where it was divulged by the great anatomist Willis.
Inspired by the ideas of the philosophers Bacon and Descartes, the Italian physician, Borelli (1608-1678), founded the iatro-mechanic theory, which was continued by Bellini, Baglivio, and several others. Boerhaave, a iatro-mechanicist, contended that the solids and fluids in the human body were ruled by mechanical, hydrostatic, and hydraulic laws.
The theories on life, health and sickness, as explained by chemistry, physics, mathematics and materialism, were abandoned, and later, with Stahl (1660-1734) and the Montpellier school, the animistic and the vitalistic ideas returned.
With the investigations of anatomists and physiologists appeared the new medical doctrines of irritability of Glisson; of spasm and atony of Cullen; of incitability of Brown, and those of counter-stimulus of Rasori, which, although modifying the therapeutic activities of the time, had an ephemeral life.
The vitalist ideas appear again with Bichat (1771-1802), who founded in France the anatomo-pathologic school, to which Broussais, Laennec, Andral, Trousseau, and many others belonged.
Broussais (1772-1838), a former disciple of Bichat, declared himself his enemy and established physiologic therapeutics employing his anti-phlogistic medication, which consisted of abundant bleedings and application of leeches, but the practices of this system were so disastrous that it soon lost credit.
The vitalist theories of Hippocrates, Stahl, Bordeu, Barthez and several others undoubtedly influenced the learned and renowned Founder of Homoeopathy, Dr. Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann (1755-1843), a physician of the Traditional School, graduate of Erlangen, Germany, August 10th, 1779, who, disappointed in the therapeutics of his time, carried out new investigations and in 1796 published in Hufelands Journal an article entitled “A New Principle for Determining the Curative Power of Drugs,” in which work, after six years of careful study and experimentation on himself and his collaborators, he disclosed the pharmaco-dynamic action and the curative power of the Bark of Peru (China officinalis) on malaria and feverish conditions.
This new theory on the modus operandi of China officinalis came to the privileged mind of Hahnemann in translating from English into German the treatise on Materia Medica by Dr. William Cullen; but it was not before 1810, that is, fourteen years after his first work in Peru Bark, that he published his masterpiece which he entitled Exposition Of The Homoeopathic Medical Doctrine or Organon Of The Art of Healing in which he definitely expounds his therapeutic axiom Similia Similibus Curentur and his openly vitalistic criterion.
Claude Bernard (1813-1878), considered by the Traditional School as the founder of modern scientific medicine, established his theory of “determinism,” having physiology and his experimental method on bases.
In spite of his materialistic criterion, he textually said, “Pathologic anatomy is not sufficient to explain every morbid alteration. Sickness is constituted by the derangement of a functional mechanism due to a vital perturbance,” and declared further, “In physiology, materialism leads to nothing and explains nothing; the manifestations of life are not the work of matter.” (BOINET: Medical Doctrines and Their Evolution, page 121-1908).
The scientific neovitalism of Heindenhain, the psychic neovitalism of Von Bunge, and the philosophic neovitalism of Chevreul, Gautier and Reinke were theories born of the ideas divulged by Bernard, but they had little effect and were short- lived.
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), a renowned French chemist, with the discovery of microbiology opened a new path to medicine when in 1877 he proved the pathogenic role of microbes. From that time to the present day, numberless followers have enriched the field of medicine in the branch of bacteriology, from which have come the new conquests of antisepsis, asepsis, preventive and curative serotherapy, vaccinotherapy, immunity, etc.
Properly speaking, serotherapy belongs to the field of Isopathy which is of strictly Hahnemannian origin.
These remarkable discoveries on the etiology and pathogenesis of sicknesses of a microbian origin gave an opportunity to Richet, Hericourt, Behring, Kitisato, Roux, Martin, Metchnikoff, Nicolle, Koch, Loffler, Pfeiffer, Labbe, etc.. to propound their several theories and interpretations on the action of microbes, toxins, antitoxins, antibodies, phagocytosis, etc., in the aggression and defense of the organism.
Again, the founder of microbiology, Pasteur, demonstrated his vitalist criterion when he said, “When the vital resistance of the subject is modified or weakened, all microbes in general will invade the organism giving rise to a definite disease. No organism is receptive to infectious agents as long as it preserves its vital attributes of natural health.”
Opotherapy, a therapeutics known from the time of Hippocrates, was scientifically sanctioned in 1859 by Brown Sequard, who is considered one of the founders of Endocrinology and Opotherapy or Organotherapy, a treatment which is meant to substitute, maintain or stimulate the organic functions of the patient, in accordance with the Natura Medicatrix principle, this being a strictly Hahnemannian concept.
Ehrlich (1854 -1915), who was convinced of the truth of the microbian theories, established a “chemical-resource therapeutics” and tried to obtain a “terapia esterilisans magna” with arsenic for syphilitic patients, seeking the sterilization of the subject in order to effect the destruction of the spirochaeta, or treponema palladium, of Schaudinn and Hoffmann.
This therapeutics, which is not free of danger because of the phenomena it is liable to produce with the Herxheimer reaction, nitritoid and white crisis of Millian, cerose apoplexy, etc., gives impressive results in syphilis and its several evolutional periods and provides a new orientation in therapeutics for the use of pharmacals having a bacteriotropic action.
Vitaminotherapy, which began its scientific period with Hopkins and was later reaffirmed by Funk, in 1911, has as its purpose to administer substances in infinitesimal quantities in defective diseases, whereby is proved the similarity of doses and their biological action in the form of catalytic agents for some vitamins as is the case with the prescription of homoeopathic medicaments in high dilutions.