This paper is about the history of a question in ancient Greek philosophy and medicine: what holds the parts of a whole together? The idea that there is a single cause responsible for cohesion is usually associated with the Stoics. They refer to it as the synectic cause (αἴτιον συνεκτικόν), a term variously translated as ‘cohesive cause,’ ‘containing cause’ or ‘sustaining cause.’ The Stoics, however, are neither the first nor the only thinkers to raise this question or to propose a single answer. Many earlier thinkers offer their own candidates for what actively binds parts together, with differing implications not only for why we are wholes rather than heaps, but also why our bodies inevitably become diseased and fall apart. This paper assembles, up to the time of the Stoics, one part of the history of such a cause: what is called ‘the synechon’ (τὸ συνέχον) – that which holds things together. Starting with our earliest evidence from Anaximenes (sixth century BCE), the paper looks at different candidates and especially the models and metaphors for thinking about causes of cohesion which were proposed by different philosophers and doctors including Empedocles, early Greek doctors, Diogenes of Apollonia, Plato and Aristotle. My goal is to explore why these candidates and models were proposed and how later philosophical objections to them led to changes in how causes of cohesion were understood.
Studies of humoralism have rightly concentrated on the balance or imbalance of humours in individuals, but ancient medical texts, including the Epidemics and Airs, Waters and Places, also discussed diseases within the wider community. The so-called Constitutions in the Epidemics are a remarkable record of collaboration, as well as of the collection and analysis of information over a long period of time. This paper looks at some of the attempts made by humoralist physicians in the Middle Ages and Renaissance to investigate the diseases of groups or of regions, raising the question why little trace remains of similar studies in Antiquity. It argues that the complexity of record-keeping and the absence of any civic organisation hampered such efforts. Although commentators on Airs, Waters and Places offered advice on town-planning and a healthy environment, this remained largely at the level of theory.
The aim of this essay is to identify three different pre-Platonic forms of holism: the ‘therapeutic’, the ‘environmental’, and the ‘cosmic.’ With the help of passages from the Hippocratic On the Nature of Man, On Regimen, and On Sevens, on the one hand, and from Plato, the earliest independent authority on the holistic nature of Hippocratic medicine, on the other, I make the case that all three forms of holism play significant roles in dietetic medicine, that they are complementary, and that aspects of them can even be combined into a single account.
As far as the Methodist medical sect is concerned, the question of holism most conspicuously arises in connection with the topic of the affected part (ὁ πεπονθὼς τόπος, locus affectus) in disease, which was a variable that the Methodists ignored, or at least downplayed, in contrast to their rivals. Extant Methodist treatises are often found insisting that the whole body suffers in disease, and that it should accordingly be treated as a whole. In this sense, the Methodists can be said to have taken a kind of holistic approach to therapeutics. But their reasoning on the question of the affected part turns out to be nuanced, and their rivals’ claims that they ignored the affected part altogether is something of a distortion. In this paper, I attempt to specify exactly what the Methodist position was on the question of the affected part in disease, what sort of holism this represented and how their approach may have developed out of more fundamental commitments. I argue that the application of their ‘Method’ led to a distinctive and noteworthy position on the issue of holism, one which deliberately encouraged the physician to minimise the significance of differences between diseases, including differences in the location of symptoms, and to focus rather on certain features which they share. Analysis of this position reveals some interesting characteristics of their approach to therapy in general, in particular their exploitation of the huge body of earlier therapeutic literature of the Classical and Hellenistic periods which they had inherited.
Emotional experience is at once bodily, mental, cultural and social. Methods for studying the emotions, especially those of historical societies, must therefore be equally multidisciplinary to avoid reducing affective experience to a single dimension. This chapter evaluates two kinds of approach to studying the ancient emotions drawing inspiration from the cognitive sciences: in particular, the Wierzbickian script-based and Lakovian metaphor-based methods. It argues that whereas the Wierzbickian approach falls short of an adequate cultural emotionology, an embodied semantics along cognitive-linguistic lines can enable emotion concepts to be studied in a way that is both emically sensitive and etically sound, as well as in their several dimensions simultaneously – thus affording a more holistic perspective on this aspect of ancient experience.
It is contended that ancient Greek medicine is fundamentally ‘holistic’ in the literal sense that it views the human organism as a complete mental and somatic unity; and it is further argued that these ideas are not purely medical but are rooted in early Greek language and thought: a systemic and synoptic view of the body in health and disease and of the mind in order and disorder can be traced in many texts of creative as well as medical writers. It is seen that the most vital physical organs (concrete) identified by different Hippocratic authors coincide and correspond with the very same bodily parts that are associated by the Attic tragedians with significant (abstract) mental and emotional activity. Through a close analysis of terminology in plays including Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and Euripides’ Hippolytos a new understanding of usage is reached. Terms discussed include kardia, thymos, phrenes, hepar, myelos and psyche.
‘Holism’, strangely enough, given the absolute quality it indicates, is a concept that can only be grasped through negative examples: what it is contrary to, the paradigms to which it constitutes an alternative. Definitions of ‘holism’ thus usually involve the interdependence among the parts composing an individual object; their relationship with that object as their container and sum; its insertion within a context, environmental or cosmic; and crucially, the existence of an additional quid which defines that object as a totality independent of its components – the idea that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’
In all these senses, the significance of the relationship between ‘parts’ and ‘whole’ can be much broader than the medical and anatomical discussions with which we would most immediately associate it, and which are under the spotlight in this volume. The breadth and malleability of the concept are key to a cultural history which is extremely long, despite the fact that ‘holism’ itself, like many such labels, can easily be seen as anachronistic if applied to the pre-modern world. This chapter aims to offer a glimpse of this long history and to illustrate the relevance of the Graeco-Roman past to our understanding of the idea of holism, and to its various manifestations throughout the centuries which separate us from the ancients.
This paper takes up ancient holism as a significant problem in ancient Greek medicine and philosophy that has to be approached with a critical awareness of modern receptions of ancient Greek medicine and science as naively vitalist, and of ancient Greece, more broadly, as the site of a pure, unified form of life. I argue that viewing questions of part and whole within the living being from the perspective of sympathy (sumpatheia) can help us articulate the major conceptual axes operative within ancient holism as a problem. I begin by situating the inquiry into ancient holism both in relationship to a history of scholarship on ancient Greek medicine and science that has focused on cultural and historical difference, and in relationship to the contested status of ancient, or premodern, ‘life’ within continental philosophy. I then turn to the two major axes that I argue help to structure the conceptual field of sympathy as it develops from the late fourth and early third century BCE in learned medicine and philosophical psychology. I focus on the development of sympathy in the Stoics, the Epicureans, and Galen, while also considering the theorization of living beings in the Hippocratics, Plato, and Aristotle. The first axis moves from ‘part-to-part’ sympathy to ‘part-to-whole’ sympathy; the second from the sympathy of body and soul to a sympathy that encompasses all the parts of the living thing. Following these axes helps us identify, in turn, persistent questions about the material structure of the body that allows for the communication of affections between its parts but also its coordinated work as a living whole. It also focuses attention on what guarantees the unity of the whole over and above that structure. Through tracking sympathy as both the occurrence of co-affection between the parts of a living thing and the relationship enabling that occurrence, we can gain insight into the theorization of a living being as a dynamic and complex but unified whole in the centuries after Aristotle.
Sanskrit medical collections offer two alternative approaches to health and disease, which represent two different versions of humoralism in Āyurvedic medicine. A few dissident scholars, who are comparable to the ones denounced by Hippocrates in On Ancient Medicine, followed a top-down approach to the patient’s body described as an undifferentiated aggregate whose health could only be controlled by acting on its humoral condition. This holistic postulate was best suited for prescribing rejuvenative medications comprised of nourishing and well-balanced foods and drugs to upgrade mental abilities, to sharpen the sensory faculties, to enhance sexual potency, and to maximise life chances. On the other hand, the more authoritative scholars, advocating a bottom-up approach to disease in which clinical investigations came to enhance the holistic concept of disease, started from the observed dispositions of the patient’s body to track the distribution of different organic fluids to specific channels, to assess the humoral condition in the different affected parts, and to devise suitable countermeasures. This second version of humoralism, represented by the differentiated integration of channels in the affected parts, was best suited for prescriptions following the principle of opposite treatment. These two modalities of humoralism have been equally constitutive of the Āyurvedic method of treatment.