This first aphorism of the Organon of Medicine is very well known among the homoeopathic practitioners, students and academicians. It seems to be very simple to read, but it has a very deep meaning. Let us explore this aphorism:
Hahnemann has discussed the aim of the physician in the very first aphorism of his Organon of Medicine. To understand this aim/mission we must first understand what he implies by the word Physician.
The word Physician is made of two parts:
Physician → ‘Physic’ + ‘Ian’
‘Physic’ has come from the Greek ‘Physikos’
Means → Natural – Nature Mind
– The art of medicine and of therapeutics
‘Ian’ means → Master
So, the word ‘Physician’ literally means – a ‘Naturalist’
– Master or expert of natural health of body
– The one skilled in the art of healing
During the pre-historic and historic period, the physicians were called the priests, exorcists, seer (Baru), magic doctors, poison curers, vaid, etc. Hippocrates used the word ‘physician’ to denote that every practitioner of medicine was to be skilled in nature. He must strive to know what man is, in relation to food, drink, occupation; and what effect each of these has on the other.
Then, during Hahnemann’s time, the therapeutic procedures were practiced more as ‘an art of physic’ (drugging) rather than ‘an art of healing’. The physicians missed their objective that medicine should be studied and practiced with a view to cure sick people and to prevent them from falling ill.
Being the master of nature, a physician, is not only a therapeutist, but he also plays the role of a diagnostician, a prognosticator, a preventive and public health officer, and a medico-legal jurist. But the chief duty of a physician is to cure the person who falls sick. The physicians during Hahnemann’s time failed in this chief duty most miserably.
Hahnemann emphasised on the aspect of physician as a therapeutist, where he should be skilled in the art of healing. Hahnemann realised the necessity of the presence of a strict principle for the physician to treat the diseases. For this reason, Hahnemann has defined the physician’s primary duty, his main aim, in clear language, in the very first aphorism of his Organon of Medicine to attach greatest importance.
“THE physician’s high and only mission is to restore the sick to health, to cure, as it is termed.1
1His mission is not, however, to construct so-called systems, by interweaving empty speculations and hypotheses concerning the internal essential nature of the vital processes and the mode in which diseases originate in the invisible interior of the organism (whereon so many physicians have hitherto ambitiously wasted their talents and their time); nor is it to attempt to give countless explanations regarding the phenomena in diseases and their proximate cause (which must ever remain concealed), wrapped in unintelligible words and an inflated abstract mode of expression, which should sound very learned in order to astonish the ignorant – whilst sick humanity sighs in vain for aid. Of such learned reveries (to which the name of theoretic medicine is given, and for which special professorships are instituted) we have had quite enough, and it is now high time that all who call themselves physicians should at length cease to deceive suffering mankind with mere talk, and begin now, instead, for once to act, that is, really to help and to cure.”
Dr BK Sarkar writes about the different versions of this aphorism in his book, ‘Hahnemann’s Organon of Medicine’:
“We may note here the different versions of the first aphorism. In the first edition of Organon, as translated by C.W. Wheeler, it reads: The physician has no higher aim than to make sick folk well, to pursue what is called the Art of Healing. According to Dungeon’s translation: The physician has no higher object than to make sick men well – to cure as it is termed. The section implies clearly that Hahnemann was not unmindful of other ‘aims’ and objects of a physician but gave priority to the physician’s function of curing the sick.
From the second edition of Organon this aphorism seems to have taken a more dogmatic turn which has served to confuse many or our contemporaries. Dudgeon translates it thus – “The physician’s high and only mission is to restore the sick to health, cure as it is termed.” C. Wesselhoft translates thus – “The physician’s highest and only calling is to restore health to the sick, which is called Healing.”
Next, the words ‘high and only’ used in the aphorism mean that amongst the different roles of a physician, the primary aim of the physician is to CURE sick persons. This is the highest and the foremost aim of a physician.
The word ‘Mission’ used in the aphorism has great significance. The word ‘mission’ has an Origin from Latin word – ‘Missio’ – (send)
- The act of sending, as on an errand
- The task or goal assigned to a person or group
The original German words used by Hahnemann was ‘Berry’, which means – occupation, profession, calling, trade
C. Wesselhoft translated it as – ‘Calling’
C. E. Wheeler translated it as – ‘Aim’
R. E. Dudgeon translated it as – ‘Mission’
Although different post-Hahnemannian stalwarts have used different words, considering the translation of R.E. Dudgeon to be the closest to Hahnemann, we consider ‘Mission’.
Dr BK Sarkar writes in his book, ‘Hahnemann’s Organon of Medicine’, that:
“Dudgeon’s use of the term “mission” is taken by many as lending a religious favour to Hahnemann’s writings (and rendering them as categorical imperatives) and putting them above criticism. Wesselhoft’s use of the term ‘calling’ brings the whole thing down to the matter-of-fact plane and he means by it the professional duty of a physician. The use of the adjective ‘only’ by both Dudgeon and Wesselhoft is apt to narrow down the function of a physician to that of a therapeutist to the exclusion of his other function…”
By using the word ‘mission’, Hahnemann has not rendered ‘Homoeopathy’ as a religion. He only wants the physician to be focused on his mission, i.e., ‘Cure’. His focus should be of the degree of a religious group who goes on a mission.
The word mission expresses that a physician is not a professional being, but rather a human being whose heart and mind both work for the benefit of the suffering human beings. The significance of the term ‘mission’ is more clearly expressed in §17 of the Organon of Medicine, where Hahnemann writes:
“…when the disease is annihilated the health is restored, and this is the highest, the sole aim of the physician who knows the true object of his mission, which consists not in learned-sounding prating, but in giving aid to the sick.”
Through the study of Organon we understand that a physician’s mission is –
- To cure incurable cases
- To palliate in incurable cases
- To preserve health
In reference to aphorism 1, the first mission of the physician, i.e, to cure incurable cases, must be understood with reference to the meanings of the words ‘Cure’ and ‘restore’:
The word ‘cure’ has its origin from the Latin word, ‘Curatio’, from ‘Cura’, meaning ‘Care’. It means:
- A restoration or return to a sound or healthy condition
- That which restores health or abolishes an evil
- The preservation of a product
By ‘cure’, Hahnemann means not only the restoration of normal health, but continuous care of the patient, so that there is no suffering thereafter – either immediate or remote; and health is preserved.
Hahnemann defined ‘Cure’ in his ‘Materia Medica Pura’, in the chapter on ‘China’, as – ‘Recovery undisturbed by after sufferings’
The word restore means to bring back or re-establish. It means to recover. The word recovery is different from cure. Recovery means restoration from sickness or from any undesirable or abnormal condition.
The words ‘as it is termed’ mean that a physician should cure a sick or restore the sick to health, as per the circumstance of the case he is treating.
During Hahnemann’s times, the physicians wasted much of their time in diagnosis of diseases on pathological grounds, in laboratories and constructing theories regarding pathology found and their aetiological factors. Amidst the controversial theories regarding pathology of disease and their causes, the patient continued to suffer.
Hahnemann therefore specified in §1 itself, that the mission of the physician should be to relieve the suffering mankind, to cure, and not construct hypotheses, theories, empty speculations regarding the nature, phenomenon and causation of disease.
In the footnote to this aphorism, Hahnemann takes a very practical view of the physician’s responsibility towards the patient and tells what a physician must NOT DO.
Hahnemann says that, a physician must not –
- Speculate and hypothesize regarding the disease phenomenon and cause of disease; or to construct the so-called systems/ Theoretic Medicine
- Deceive patients with talks
- Endanger life of patient by large and frequent doses of dangerous, violent medicines whose action is not properly known
- Should not imitate the imperfect efforts of unintelligent vital force to help itself.
Dr BK Sarkar writes in his book, ‘Hahnemann’s Organon of Medicine’, that:
“Apprehending any such misunderstanding, Hahnemann takes pains to clarify his viewpoint in a footnote to this Section. What he positively asserted is that the primary and the most important preoccupation of a physician would be with regard to cure of sick people; and what the negatively implied was that there was enough of ‘medicine of speculation and time was ripe for turning it to “a medicine of experience”; and that “it is now high time that all who call themselves physicians should at length cease to deceive suffering mankind with mere talk, and begin now, instead, for once to act, that is, really to help and to cure.”
This was all about Aphorism 1 for now. 😊