Claudius Galenus, better known as Galen, hailed from an old Greek city by the name of Pergamum. Pergamum was a Greek center for learning and medicine where he, born into wealth, had ample time to study. After his father died he went to study in Smyrna (located in present day Izmir, Turkey) and then Alexandria to finish his medical studies. His first position as a physician was in service to gladiators in Pergamum, where he honed his skills in anatomy and surgery. When he traveled to Rome, news of his physiological prowess had traveled to the very Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome, thus he became Aurelius’ personal physician (Osborn, 2007). However, physiology was not Galen’s only interest.
Contrary to conventional logic at the time, Galen’s treatise titled That the best Doctor is also a Philosophy gave an unanticipated ethical reason for physicians to study philosophy. Galen claimed that seeking wealth is incompatible with serious medical practice. He thought that physicians should despise money and accused colleagues of greed. Galen downplayed the degree to which wealth was a motivation to become a physician (Klein, 2009). But, beyond the realm of motivations, Galen’s philosophic ideals honed his reasoning and observations.
To understand where Galen gleaned his philosophical ideals, one must understand the philosophies of the Hellenistic schools of medicine. According to Michael Boylan of Marymount University, through the end of the fourth century BCE and all through the third century BCE, major advances in medicine revolved around the prolific physicians and philosophyers: Diocles, Praxagoras, Herophilus, and Erasistratus. It was in this era that debates were centered on the role in which both theory and observation should take place in science. This was a controversy among philosophers of the time in regards to how inductive logic might be useful for medical practitioners. At issue was the origin of theoretical structure and whether an observer implementing inductive logic was allowing nature to reveal its own nature to the logician, or if the logician was actually imposing their own ideals upon nature. Those who are skeptics of theoretical structure would suggest that ratiocination about nature and its functions is enough to produce sufficiently accurate scientific theory. Many philosophers take issue with this etiology (Boylan, 2002).
One such group that debated the role of observation in relation to theory were the Empiricists. Empiricism asserts that knowledge must come via observation or sensory experience. While Galen claimed to belong to no philosophical school, his methods aligned with Aristotelian critical empiricism. While being an innovative observer in accomplishing the first depiction of a four-chambered human heart, his epistemology was indeed philosophically based (Boylan, 2002). His practice required detailed observation backed up by theory to decipher said observations (2002).
Galen drew on previous...