No metaphysics no medicine

metaphysics medicine heraclitus

Metaphysics and Medicine

What has metaphysics got to do with the practise and theory of medicine? Well, as soon as a living being sits in front of you in a consultation, you are now in the realm of metaphysics.

There are many points of cross reference between medicine and metaphysics. Here are some and brief reasons why.

Causation
I’ve introduced causation before in posts here and here but causation is a huge subject. Do streptococci cause sore throats? Hardly when a healthy person has a throat full of streptococci. They are associated with a sore throat but not the cause. As pointed out by medical historian Harris Coulter, medicine is Rationalistic and so always looks for a cause but frequently a cause cannot be found. If a cause is found we can usually ask what caused that cause. Hahnemann was smart and unique in positing three causes of illness: the fundamental, the exciting and maintaining causes. For more on this see the above links.

Freedom and Determinism
This is becoming more of a debate with neuroscience’s contribution which may claim we are controlled by our brain activity and therefore are not free meaning we are not responsible or autonomous individuals. How free are we and how does our answer influence our understanding of disease?

Laws of Nature
Are laws of the universe laws or just laws in name only? This is the case with Newton’s law of gravity which is false so therefore not a law. Are these laws reliable or contingent? Do laws enable us to predict an outcome?

For example, in last years debate on suicidal ideation being a reason for abortion, it was concluded psychiatry cannot predict suicide. Therefore, I conclude psychiatry is not a science. When I give what I believe to be a good remedy to a client, I can predict their reaction. Therefore homeopathy is at least more scientific than psychiatry.

Another example. An orthodontist I know shows contempt for alternative medicine. He predicted he could finish a particular treatment by June last year. He didn’t. He revised his prediction to November then revised yet again to June this year. His predictions were not based on laws and were unreliable. So orthodontic treatment is not a science. (There’s a lot of subjective judgement involved.)

Personal Identity
If I am a person at x and I am a person at y, then what makes me the same person at these two different times? is a typical problem in metaphysics. I’ve explored the question of who it is we treat here.

Mind-Body Problem
This branch of metaphysics explores the relationship between the mind (meaning consciousness) and the brain in the person. This is broadly translated to a conflict between the physical and non physical world. It’s relevant to homeopathy in that homeopathy is very much in the mind and medicine and atheists are in the physical/biological/chemical/material world. Hence their objections to homeopathy/consciousness/religion etc.

Time
Can I step into the same river twice? Does time pass and if so, how quickly?

In his lecture on Bryonia James Tyler Kent curiously refers to “the velocity of the remedy.” What does it mean for a remedy to have a speed, to be short or long acting?

What connects acute, sub-acute and chronic illnesses? – time! When medicine has no understanding of these three classifications of illness, how does it explain the varying durations in time of each illness?

Physical Objects
If I shape a lump of clay into a pot, how many objects do I have? If I then smash the pot into pieces, how many objects do I have? When we attenuate a substance what do we actually have?

Properties
We’ve heard George Vithoulkas mention “the essence” of a remedy. Strip away the blackness of a cat and we can still understand what a cat is. Keep removing properties, like its furriness etc until we are left with a basic essence or substrata. Properties are like qualities, attributes, features or characteristics. Are there such things as properties and relations? Relations characterise two or more things in relation to one another. For example, red and green are properties. A table has properties but is the table the same as its properties? Are the properties of the table bound together inseparably? How do we distinguish between a person and their properties? The idea of a substratum I find helpful for understanding a remedy. What is the substrata of a remedy once the non-essential properties have been removed?

Powers
What gives a medicine a power to produce recovery? What is in this remedy to make it cause this reaction? How did Hahnemann know – and call his remedies powers – about powers and likewise think he could release them (actualise them in Aristotelian terms)? I intend to post more on this in my Catholics and Homeopathy series of blog posts.

Dispositions
A further point of debate in metaphysics is the idea of dispositions. Surely this is relevant to medicines and patients? In the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy it is introduced thus,

A glass has certain dispositions, for example the disposition to shatter when struck. But what is this disposition? It seems on the one hand to be a perfectly real property, a genuine respect of similarity common to glasses, china cups, and anything else fragile. Yet on the other hand, the glass’s disposition seems mysterious, ‘ethereal’ (as Goodman (1954) put it) in a way that, say, its size and shape are not. For its disposition, it seems, has to do only with its possibly shattering in certain conditions. In general, it seems that nothing about the actual behaviour of an object is ever necessary for it to have the dispositions it has. Many objects differ from one another with respect to their dispositions in virtue of their merely possible behaviors, and this is a mysterious way for objects to differ.

Conclusion
Reading metaphysics will give us a better grounding in what we are working with and who we are treating as well as help us understand why materialist scientists don’t see things our way and vice versa.

Further Reading
Stephen Mumford has a number of relevant books: Causation, Metaphysics and Metaphysics and Science.
Michael Rea has a new introductory book: Metaphysics: The Basics.
At Nautilus, philosopher Roger Trigg explains why science needs metaphysics.

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