Aristotle commences his treatise On the parts of animals, Medical culture

Aristotle commences his treatise “On the parts of animals” with the following statement: ‘Regarding any field of study, regardless of its prestige or insignificance, there exist two possible approaches.’ One of these is referred to as scientific knowledge, while the other acts as a distinguishing characteristic of a cultured individual, namely the ability to accurately assess the correctness or incorrectness of another person’s explanation.

That is indeed our perception of the ideal cultured being, and culture refers to the capacity to accomplish such a feat. We believe that a cultured individual possesses the ability to independently evaluate a wide range of subjects, whereas an ordinary one can only do so in a specific area of expertise. In specialized professions, it is necessary to have an educated individual who aligns with the universal archetype we have delineated.

In his Politics, he explicitly draws a clear separation between the dedicated scholar of nature and the refined individual who, as an enthusiast, takes an interest in it. This differentiation is precisely the point he is emphasizing. In his statement, he delineates three distinct levels of knowledge: the expertise possessed by the practicing physician, the knowledge held by the individual involved in innovative medical research who shares their findings with physicians, and the information possessed by individuals who are well-versed in medical matters.

Additionally, he acknowledges the presence of such novices in every specific domain. The purpose of this example is to demonstrate that those with political training, in addition to practical politicians, have the authority to assess political issues. However, the author’s selection of medicine as an example indicates that this form of reasoning was prevalent in the medical industry.

This divergence between academic scholars of a particular discipline and individuals who have a casual interest in it as a component of broader knowledge has been observed previously. We observed this phenomenon in the youthful Athenian aristocrats who enthusiastically attended the lectures of the sophists, yet had no desire to pursue a career as professional sophists. In his work “Protagoras,” Plato cleverly demonstrated how even the most ardent followers of the sophists maintained their own private doubts and reservations.

Similarly this also holds true in the field of medicine, as seen in Xenophon’s Euthydemus. Euthydemus, an avid reader of medical literature, was shocked when Socrates inquired if he aspired to pursue a career as a physician. The diverse range of interests displayed in his varied library is indicative of the emerging ‘global culture’.

Xenophon documents this dialogue with Euthydemus under a distinct section titled ‘Socrates’ stance towards Paideia’. This indicates that within specific social groups, the term paideia was acquiring the meaning of ‘comprehensive cultural knowledge.’ Our objective is not to chronicle the progression of any particular area of culture, but rather to depict it in its diverse array of expressions.

Medical culture was one of the utmost significant aspects among these. Aristotle’s understanding of an individual who possesses knowledge and expertise in medicine or natural science is more precise and well-defined compared to the ideas put forward by Plato or Xenophon. When he asserts that an individual may exercise judgment, he is indicating that the person possesses a certain understanding of the correct approach to addressing a situation, although this does not necessarily indicate comprehensive knowledge of the entire truth surrounding it.

Only the student with a scientific background is aware of that. However, the refined individual possesses the capacity to evaluate, and their discernment is frequently more dependable than even that of the industrious academic in their respective domain. The emergence of this novel category, situated between the expert and the non-expert, is a distinctive occurrence in the trajectory of Greek culture following the era of the sophists. Aristotle assumes it as a given.

The prominence of this phenomenon is most evident in early medical literature, which exhibits a strong emphasis on persuading individuals to adopt a certain belief or ideology. The inclusion of specialized disciplines in the realm of general knowledge is consistently constrained by strict societal norms, permitting just what is deemed appropriate for a person of refined upbringing to be acquainted with.

In Aristotle’s works, we encounter the ethical principle that he used to derive significant conclusions regarding the advancement of culture and the embodiment of real refinement, emphasizing the negative consequences of excessive specialization.

Observe how, even during the era when science was dominant, the traditional aristocratic culture persisted and displayed its pride. The initial encounter with what Greece referred to as ‘the physician’s art’ in the earliest medical writings was of significant importance, generating considerable attention among the stated audience.

By applying deductive reasoning based on the prevailing scientific principles of Hippocrates’ day, we have endeavored to reconstruct the impact of natural philosophy on medicine, and comprehend the profound transformation it brought to the field of science. It requires a significant degree of historical imagination to completely comprehend and assess the immense difference between it and its primal antecedents.

However, we must exert ourselves to avoid assuming that the presence of an advanced medical science in the fifth century was a mere coincidence that requires no explanation. One could argue that it is reasonable to consider it as such, particularly given that many of its concepts remain relevant today. However, it is important to note that significant advancements have been made in the past century, particularly in terms of specific aspects.