Hippocrates and Darwin

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In 1868, Charles Darwin, already famous for his radical theory on evolution, made a surprising admission, acknowledging the similarities between his theories and those of Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician of the 5th century BC. In reply to a letter, now unfortunately lost,  sent by Dr William Ogle (Superintendent of Statistics to the Registrar-General) Darwin declares the following:

…I wish I had known of these views of Hippocrates before I had published, for they seem almost identical with mine – merely a change of terms – and an application of them to classes of facts necessarily unknown to the old philosopher. The whole case is a good illustration of how rarely anything is new.

…Hippocrates has taken the wind out of my sails, but I care very little about being forestalled. I advance the views merely as a provisional hypothesis, but with the secret expectation that sooner or later some such view will have to be admitted.

…I do not expect the reviewers will be so learned as you otherwise, no doubt, I shall be accused of wilfully stealing Pangenesis from Hippocrates, for this is the spirit some reviewers delight to show (Darwin 1887, p 82).

Having grown up in a family of doctors and having attended medical school only to drop out after a couple of years, Darwin may have had some knowledge of the Hippocratic writings. He however denies it in his letter, leaving us only to guess whether he had read any of the books in the Corpus. 

Darwin F (ed) (1887). The Life and Letter of Charles Darwin, Vol II. (John Murray Publ., London)

 

One thought on “Hippocrates and Darwin

  1. I have been reading some interesting stuff recently about current trends of over prescribing by GP’s and also observed its effects on a couple of friends. First do no harm is I think a good adage to follow(If I have my quotes correct!)

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