Physicians are my brethren; I have nothing against them personally. The medical art is my subject.
I have to inquire whether medicine as hitherto taught has, in all its parts, been merely developed out of the heads, the self-deception and the caprice of its professors, or whether it has been derived from nature.
If it be merely a product of speculative subtlety, arbitrary maxims, traditional practices and capricious deductions drawn from ambiguous premises, it is and remains a nullity, though it may reckon its age by thousands of years, and be decorated with the charters of all the kings and emperors of the earth.
The true healing art is in its nature a pure science of experience, and can and must rest on clear facts and on the sensible phenomena pertaining to their sphere of action, for all the subjects it has to deal with are clearly and satisfactorily cognizable by the senses through experience. Knowledge of the disease to be treated, knowledge of the effects of the medicines, and how the ascertained effects of the medicines are to be employed for the removal of diseases, all this experience alone teaches adequately. Its subjects can only be derived from pure experiences and observations, and it dares not take a single step out of the sphere of pure well-observed experience and experiment, if it would avoid becoming a nullity, a farce.
But that the whole art of medicine as hitherto practised, though it has been, for want of something better, practised for these 2500 years by millions of physicians, many of whom were earnest high-minded men, is yet in every respect an extremely stupid, useless and thoroughly null affair, is proved by the following few incontrovertible considerations.
Unaided reason can know nothing of itself (a priori), can evolve out of itself alone no conception of the nature of things, of cause and effect; every one of its conclusions about the actual must always be based on sensible perceptions, facts and experiences if it would elicit the truth. If in its operation it should deviate by a single step from the guidance of perception, it would lose itself in the illimitable region of phantasy and of arbitrary speculation, the mother of pernicious illusion and of absolute nullity.
In the pure sciences of experience, in physics, chemistry and medicine, merely speculative reason can consequently have no voice; there when it acts alone, it degenerates into empty speculation and phantasy, and produces only hazardous hypotheses, which in millions of instances are, and by their very nature must be, self-deception and falsehood.
Such has hitherto been the splendid juggling of so-called theoretical medicine, in which a priori conceptions and speculative subtleties raised a number of proud schools, which only showed what each of their founders had dreamed about things which could not be known, and which were of no use for the cure of diseases.
Out of these sublime systems, soaring far beyond all experience, medical practice could obtain nothing available for actual treatment. So it pursued its course confidently at the patient’s bedside in accord with the traditional prescriptions of its books telling how physicians had hitherto treated, and in conformity with the methods of its practical authorities, unconcerned, like them, about the teachings of nature-guided experience, unconcerned about true reasons for its treatment, and quite content with the key to easy practice – the prescription book.
A healthy, unprejudiced, conscientious examination of this confused business shows plainly that what has hitherto gone by the name of the art of medicine was merely a pseudo-scientific fabrication, remodelled from time to time to meet the prevailing fashion in medical systems, like Gellert’s hat in the fable, but, as regards the treatment of disease, ever the same blind pernicious method.
A healing art conformable to nature and experience did not exist. Everything in traditional medicine was the outcome of art and imagination, having no foundation in experience, but pranked out in the habiliments of probability.
The object of cure (the disease) was manufactured to order by pathology. It was arbitrarily settled what diseases, how many and what forms and kinds there should be. Just think! The whole range of diseases, produced in innumerable and always unforeseeable rariety by infinite Nature in human beings exposed to thousands of different conditions, the pathologist cuts down so ruthlessly that a mere handful of cut and dry forms is the result!
The wiseacres define diseases a priori, and attributed to them transcendental substrata not warranted by experience (how could plain pure experience ever sanction such fantastic dreams?); no! they pretended to possess an insight into the inner nature of things and the invisible vital processes, which no mortal can have.
Now, in order to decide on something positive with regard to the instruments of cure, the powers of the different medicines in the materia medica were inferred from their physical, chemical and other irrelevant qualities, also from their odour, taste and external aspect, but chiefly from impure experiences at the sick bed, where, in the tumult of the morbid symptoms, only mixtures of medicines were prescribed for imperfectly described cases of disease. Just think! the dynamic spiritual power of altering man’s health hidden in the invisible interior of medicines, and never manifested purely and truly in any other way than by their effects on the healthy human body, was arbitrarily ascribed to them, without interrogating the medicines themselves in this only admissible way of pure experiment, and listening to their response when so questioned!
Then therapeutics taught how to apply the medicines, whose qualities had been thus inferred, ascribed or imagined, to the supposed fundamental cause or to single symptoms of disease, in conformity with the rule contraria contrariis of the hypothesis-framer Galen, and in direct opposition to nature; and this doctrine was held to be more than sufficiently established if eminent authorities could be adduced in support of it.
All these unnatural human doctrines, after being connected together by all sorts of illogical false deductions, were then welded into scholastic forms by the noble art that devotes itself to division, subdivision and tabellation, and lo! the manufactured article, the art of medicine, was ready for use, – a thing the most opposed to nature and experience it is possible to conceive, a structure built up entirely of the opinions of various kinds furnished by thousands of differently constituted minds. In all its parts this edifice is a pure nullity, a pitiable self-deception, eminently fitted to imperil human life by its methods of treatment, blindly counter to the end proposed, incessantly ridiculed by the wisest men of all ages, and labouring under the curse of not being what it professes to be, and not being able to perform what it promises.
Sober, unprejudiced reflection, on the other hand, can easily convince us that to hold correct views about every case of disease we have to cure, to obtain an accurate knowledge of the true powers of medicines, to employ them on a plan adapted to each morbid condition and to administer them in proper dose, – in a word, the complete true healing art, can never be the work of self-satisfied ratiocination and illusory opinions, but that the requisites for this, the materials as well as the rules for its exercise, are only to be discovered by due attention to nature by means of our senses, by careful honest observations and by experiments conducted with all possible purity, and in no other way; and, rejecting every falsifying admixture of arbitrary dicta, must be faithfully sought in this the only way commensurate to the high value of precious human life.
It remains to be seen if by my conscientious labours in this way the true healing art has been found.