The Ethics of Diagnosis in Ancient Greek Medicine

  • Pedro Laín-Entralgo
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 40)


Every human act that implies a relation with the external world, as is the case with medical diagnosis, presupposes a cognitive distancing of the agent from the area of reality to which the act refers. Nobody, for example, could set out to travel to a city without a certain prior idea of what that city is, even when such an idea may be no more than an erroneous or imprecise conjecture. Not even the man who sets out exploring with the maxim, “Well, let’s see what happens”, is exempted from this rule. To the question implied in that distancing, there are two, qualitatively distinctive answers: one empirical, constituted by what the corresponding experience of the world hat taught; and the other interpretative, formed by what is for that agent the reality of the particular experience. In the interpretative moment, up to four types of ideas can be distinguished: the purely empirical or the “reduplicatively empirical”, one could call it — of those who with greater of lesser deliberation do not want or do not know how to adhere to anything but the data afforded by sensorial experience; the magical, of those who in some manner or other have recourse to the intervention of preternatural and superhuman potencies in their judgments; the imaginative, of those who appeal to notions which, while not possessing a preternatural character, cannot be rationally justified; and finally, the rational, of those who only by means of experience and reason set out to interpret what they perceive.


Moral Responsibility Medical Diagnosis Moral Evil Cognitive Distance Greek Physician 
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    Dodds, E.R.: 1956, The Greeks and the Irrational, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.Google Scholar
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    Edelstein, L.: 1931, Peri aeron und die Sammlung der hippokratischen Schriften, Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, Berlin.Google Scholar
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    Edelstein, L.: 1967. Ancient Medicine, Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pedro Laín-Entralgo
    • 1
  1. 1.University of MadridMadridSpain

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