This article voices concern at the trend among influential numbers of homeopaths the world over, to jettison Hahnemann’s similimum principle, and replace it with Kent’s almost exclusive concentration on mental and psychic symptoms.
Was Kent a Hahnemannian? This question has engaged the minds of many thinking homeopaths since the time of Kent.
Over the years, there have been two distinct trends of thought on this controversy. One critical school argued that Hahnemann’s theories were scientific and that Kent’s views were ‘metaphysical’.
The second school of thought accused Hahnemann himself of being metaphysical but only in his later period. This school held that Hahnemann increasingly lost his way into metaphysical homeopathy as he grew older. Anthony Campbell, representing this school, charged that Kent was a follower of this later Hahnemann but went much further incorporating into homeopathy many of the mystical concepts of Swedenborg.
In order to discuss these two schools of thought, I propose to investigate two fundamental aspects of Hahnemann’s theory, leaving the third one, the theory of Miasm for future discussion. These two are: Vitalism and Dynamization (also known as Potentization).
Campbell condemned all these three theories of Hahnemann and to a much greater extent, of Kent, as metaphysical. By ‘metaphysical’ Campbell closely followed Karl Popper’s renowned definition of the criterion of scientific status. This was that all theories or concepts that were inherently incapable of falsification were metaphysical. At the same time, Campbell enlisted a mechanistic 18th century criterion for his metaphysical definition. “By definition”, he wrote, “the vital force cannot be seen or weighed; it cannot be detected by the senses or with instruments. It remains a mere theoretical construct and is no more accessible to scientific investigation than is the soul or the ether.” (1) Nietzsche, the great German secular philosopher of the late 19th century was a fierce opponent of such mechanistic interpretation. He wrote that such a view “that permits counting, calculating, weighing, seeing and touching and nothing more, is a crudity and naivetÃ©, assuming that it is not a mental illness or idiocy.”(2)
Moreover, Hahnemann was following the ideas of Leibniz and Wolffe, thinkers of impeccable philosophical credentials. According to Leibniz the world is fully alive with beings animated by live forces he named as ‘monads’. Hahnemann used this concept of Leibniz and others to develop his theory of Vitalism in homeopathic medicine. Like the ‘monads’, vital force was alive but not amenable to Campbell’s crudely mechanistic interpretation.
Hahnemann’s theory of Vitalism
For the purpose of our present discussion, vitalism and dynamization are being considered together because it was the process of dynamization, which, according to Hahnemann, released the spirit-like vital force of the remedies.
It is important to note that Hahnemann arrived at the theory of vitalism not as the result of any predilection for such a concept, but in order to explain the results of his experiments with smaller and smaller doses of medicines. He originally reduced the dose in order to reduce the toxic effects or aggravations caused by these medicines used in more concentrated form. But besides reducing the toxic side effects, he soon noticed that greater benefits were obtained when the indicated medicine was used in a diluted form. It was only after Hahnemann had observed this enhanced therapeutic effect with increasing dilution and succussion that the connection between dynamization and vitalism began to take shape in his mind.
Hahnemann started to use gradually increasing dilutions of up to 30C. But he was against the use of any higher potency beyond 30C until 1833. However, since there is not a single molecule of medicine left after 12c, we were already in the realm of Campbell’s ‘metaphysics’ as early as 1814-16 rather than 1821 as claimed by him. Moreover, it also shows that there was no break in Hahnemann’s thinking but a gradual evolution of his thinking based on practice and experience. Even at the time of the publication of his Chronic Diseases in 1828, and indeed as late as 1833, Hahnemann was not in favour of the use of potencies above 30C.
Hahnemann then went on to suggest that every human organism, whatever its state of health, was ruled by its vital force. A similar vital force was lying dormant in each natural substance, which was then released by the process of dilution and succussion. When the released vital force of the medicine was applied to the cause of the disease in the prescribed manner, healing resulted. The concept of vital force even in an inanimate substance being released by dynamization – that is, by serial dilution and succussion – was a far cry from the religious or esoteric concept of spiritualism. It was the crude empiricism of critics like Campbell, which rejected everything which could not be seen or weighed or measured or detected by senses as ‘metaphysical’ which was in fact out of line with the advancing knowledge.
Hahnemann realized over years of practice and experience that factors initiating disease were dynamic and were not capable of being recognized or diagnosed by physical, chemical or laboratory analysis.
Kent’s theory of vitalism
This leads us directly to Kent and his role. Kent mainly, but also Hering, brought the seminal formulations of Hahnemann into disrepute by turning his ‘vital force’ into a god-like spiritual force. For Hahnemann, the vital force was an unconscious force without the capacity for reflection, and moreover, it was present in both animate and inanimate things.
The resemblance between Hahnemann’s ‘vital force’ and the concept of Qi (Chi) in tradition Chinese medical philosophy is extremely close. The Qi like vital force is believed to be present both in animate and inanimate substances and was the source of all change.
Kent moved away from this Hahnemannian concept of the vital force. In its place, he substituted his own concept of ‘simple substance’. For him, this ‘simple substance’ was endowed with formative intelligence. In this he followed the Swedish mystic, Emanuel Swedenborg. For Swedenborg, the idea that there was a mystical correspondence between the spirit world and our own, was fundamental. Whatever happened in the spirit world must have its correspondence here on earth. It was natural for a Swedenborgian like Kent to regard this correspondence as a divinely ordained Law of Nature. This, in effect, meant that for Kent the process of discovery and advance in knowledge in any field of human endeavor through research and experiment was irrelevant. What one needed was the knowledge of the Divine Laws and this was for him the foundation of homeopathy.
Contrast between two views highlighted
There could be no greater contrast between these views of Kent and those of his supposed mentor. For Hahnemann, the true healing art is only discovered “by due attention to nature by means of our senses, by careful honest observations and experiments conducted with all possible purity and in no other way”.
Kent’s position was diametrically opposite to those who would discover facts by due attention to nature, by means of the senses, by careful honest observations and experiments, as well as interpreting the results of experiments with medicines with rational insight, as advocated by Christopher Peacocke in the Times Literary Supplement (3). Spinoza said: “So the way to understanding nature or anything of whatever kind, must always be the same, viz through the universal laws and rules of nature” (4). Hahnemann wrote in another context, “I demand no faith at all, and do not demand that anybody should comprehend it: it is enough that it is a fact and nothing else. Experience alone declares it and I believe more in experience than in my own intelligence” (5).
Kent was responsible for importing into Hahnemannian classical homeopathy his own dogmatic and moralistic prejudices. For him and his followers, disease was seen as “as the blight of the corrupted spirit“. It was a moral as well as physical problem and the treatment of the mind and the soul an integral aspect of the therapeutic endeavors. “For Hahnemann, the miasms had been acquired ‘infections’, but for the Swedenborgians (like Kent), they were moral taints passing from generation to generation, and psora in particular took on some of the characteristics of ‘Original Sin‘ (my emphasis). (1) Thus according to Kent, all diseases were built on psora.
It was “the very primitive wrong and the spiritual weakness of the human race”. (my emphasis) (5) His main ‘philosophical’ project was to try and reconcile homeopathy with his interpretation of Christian theology, that theology and homeopathy ‘cannot be divorced’, that ‘divine providence must be recognized’
It was the association of psora to the very primitive wrong and the spiritual weakness of the human race that was the basis of the exclusive prominence given to the mental symptoms in Kent’s repertory. On the other hand, Hahnemann’s homeopathy was matching a set of symptoms with a drug picture and especially the matching of uncommon and peculiar symptoms of the patient with similar symptoms recorded during drug provings. For classical homeopathy could literally be defined as a therapeutic method which clinically applied the law of similars.
Hahnemann’s similimum principle jettisoned