Baltimore Homeopathic Study Group

Harris Coulter gave the opening talk at the 1997 NCH Conference on Affiliated Study Group Workshop day. Harris Coulter is well known in the homeopathic community for his four volume series of books, "Divided Legacy." It took him thirty years to complete all four volumes.of "Divide Legacy". Harris first became acquainted with homeopathy on his honeymoon with his wife, Catherine, in Paris in 1961. During the honeymoon Catherine developed allergies to many of the foods she ate there. They went to see a homeopathic doctor in Paris. Harris said that his office looked like it hadn't been cleaned in many years and no book in his office was printed in this century. But instead of being put off, he was fascinated. He was also impressed by the results. Within one week his wife was significantly better. This sparked Harris's interest in homeopathy.

When he got back to the United States, he asked the American doctors he knew what they knew about homeopathy. They told him homeopathy was an obsolete form of medical practice that had died out a hundred years ago. He went to the National Medical Library to research homeopathy further and discovered the most recent history of the subject was written almost a hundred years ago. At the time he was completing a PhD in political science at Columbia. He told his thesis advisor that he wanted to change the subject of his thesis from the history of the Soviet Communist party to the history of homeopathy in the United States. His thesis advisor wouldn't approve the change, but he decided to write a dissertation on the subject anyway. This was in 1962 After about eight years, Columbia relented and granted him a PhD for his dissertation, as they should have, as he presented the history of homeopathy as the conflict between two interest groups: the homeopathic and allopathic practitioners. This dissertation became the nucleus of the first book Harris Coulter wrote on homeopathy, which was eventually to be volume three of the series.

After completing his history, Harris became interested in the philosophy underlying homeoapthy and allopathy. When he researched the history of medicine, he found that the conflict between homeopathy and allopathy in the nineteenth century was one instance of a larger conflict between two approaches to medicine: the empirical and rational approaches. Homeopathy is firmly within the empirical tradition, while allopathy is in the rational tradition. Precedents for many of the principles of homeopathy can be found within the empiricist tradition. The law of similars was used as a basis of therapy by many empirical doctors and Paracelsus introduced the use of the small dose of medicine. The greatest contribution of Hahnemann to medicine was the proving, by which the symptoms that a medicine produces could be discovered.

The two schools of medicine developed side by side in the world of ancient Greece and Rome. The classical empirical tradition died out about 200 AD, but Paracelsus and others who studied the classical medical texts picked up the empirical ideas and continued the empirical tradition.

The distinction between rational and empirical medicine lies in how they developed their ideas. In rational medicine, the emphasis is on deductive logic and in empirical medicine the emphasis is on experience. However, the difference is only in emphasis, as both schools use logic and experience, only in different degrees. Rational medicine has always prided itself on being science based, whatever the popular science of man was at the time. Empirical medicine has always been in the minority when compared to the dominant school of rational medicine, though the relative influence of both has varied through history. Perhaps the reason empiricism has always been in the minority is because it is harder to do. Empiricism is vitalistic, individualizes the treatment to the patient, is oriented towards treating the patient's symptoms, and treats by the law of similars. Rational medicine, in contrast, is mechanistic, disease rather than symptom oriented, and treats by the law of contraries.

The practice of Western medicine began with the Hippocratic corpus, written by different Greek doctors on the island of Cos. There were originally seventy books in the Corpus, of which fifteen survive. Within the corpus some writings are in the rationalist tradition, while others are in the empirical tradition. But the oldest books are in the empirical tradition. So the split between the empirical and rationalist approaches to medicine has been there since the beginning of Western medicine and the same philosophical principles have guided each throughout history.

Harris Coulter discovered in his research that the history of medicine is cyclical, with the fortunes of empirical medicine waxing and waning over time. Her in the United States, the strongest challenge to the rational tradition of allopathic medicine was homeopathy. Homeopath was introduced into the United States in 1826 by Hans Bertch Gram. It grew in numbers and influence until about 1900, after which it went into decline. The bottom of the cycle was reached in 1967 and beginning in 1968 interest in homeopathy began to grow again. Harris Coulter believes that interest in homeopathic medicine will peak sometime in the twenty first century, perhaps around 2030, and then homeopathy will go into another decline, eclipsed by some new form of allopathic medicine.

Harris Coulter believes that though allopathic medicine claims to be the only scientific system of medicine, in fact, only the empirical tradition is truly scientific. The science of allopathy is at best, a social science, with the methodological confusion inherent in all forms of social science. No one would dream of giving social scientists control of the political system in this country. Yet allopaths have been given control of our nation's health care system. Empirical medicine is scientific because it treats the patient as an individual and not as a member of a class. The allopathic disease categories are poorly designed fictions that do not fit the individual patient. These disease categories have been developed by ignoring the normal biological variation of the individual. But the structure of a scientific discipline must be adapted to its subject matter. The doctor only treats individuals, not disease classes. Empiricism, by emphasizing individualization of treatment is thus the only scientific approach to medicine.

Harris Coulter concluded with a brief discussion of what he feels are the reasons for the decline of homeoathy early in this century. About 1870, allopathic doctors began using homeopathic medicines, blurring the distinction between the two systems of medicine. Homeopathy, which had depended on the lay public to promote its practice began to draw away from the lay practice of homeopathy in an attempt to heal the split with allopathic medicine and to appear respectable. At the same time, homeopathy was split into warring factions: the high and low potency camps. The low potency practitioners tried to reformulate the practice of homeopathy on an allopathic basis, while a minority of practitioners, adhering to original ideas of Hahnemann split with the American Institute of Homeopathy and formed the International Hahnemanian Association. John D. Rockefeller, who had used a homeopathic doctor all his life, was so disgusted with the quarelling that he left a considerable portion of his wealth to allopathic rather than homeopathic hospitals.

Much of Harris Coulter's talk was familiar to those who have read his books. To those who haven't, I would suggest buying and reading Divided Legacy, especially volume three. It's essential reading for anyone who wishes to know where homeopathy has been and its relationship to the dominant school of medical practice in this country.

Harris Coulter
NCH Summer School