This article voices concern at the trend among influential numbers of homeopaths the world over, to jettison Hahnemann’s similimum principle, and replace it with Kent’s almost exclusive concentration on mental and psychic symptoms.
Was Kent a Hahnemannian? This question has engaged the minds of many thinking homeopaths since the time of Kent.
Over the years, there have been two distinct trends of thought on this controversy. One critical school argued that Hahnemann’s theories were scientific and that Kent’s views were ‘metaphysical’.
The second school of thought accused Hahnemann himself of being metaphysical but only in his later period. This school held that Hahnemann increasingly lost his way into metaphysical homeopathy as he grew older. Anthony Campbell, representing this school, charged that Kent was a follower of this later Hahnemann but went much further incorporating into homeopathy many of the mystical concepts of Swedenborg.
In order to discuss these two schools of thought, I propose to investigate two fundamental aspects of Hahnemann’s theory, leaving the third one, the theory of Miasm for future discussion. These two are: Vitalism and Dynamization (also known as Potentization).
Campbell condemned all these three theories of Hahnemann and to a much greater extent, of Kent, as metaphysical. By ‘metaphysical’ Campbell closely followed Karl Popper’s renowned definition of the criterion of scientific status. This was that all theories or concepts that were inherently incapable of falsification were metaphysical. At the same time, Campbell enlisted a mechanistic 18th century criterion for his metaphysical definition. “By definition”, he wrote, “the vital force cannot be seen or weighed; it cannot be detected by the senses or with instruments. It remains a mere theoretical construct and is no more accessible to scientific investigation than is the soul or the ether.” (1) Nietzsche, the great German secular philosopher of the late 19th century was a fierce opponent of such mechanistic interpretation. He wrote that such a view “that permits counting, calculating, weighing, seeing and touching and nothing more, is a crudity and naiveté, assuming that it is not a mental illness or idiocy.”(2)
Moreover, Hahnemann was following the ideas of Leibniz and Wolffe, thinkers of impeccable philosophical credentials. According to Leibniz the world is fully alive with beings animated by live forces he named as ‘monads’. Hahnemann used this concept of Leibniz and others to develop his theory of Vitalism in homeopathic medicine. Like the ‘monads’, vital force was alive but not amenable to Campbell’s crudely mechanistic interpretation.
Hahnemann’s theory of Vitalism
For the purpose of our present discussion, vitalism and dynamization are being considered together because it was the process of dynamization, which, according to Hahnemann, released the spirit-like vital force of the remedies.
It is important to note that Hahnemann arrived at the theory of vitalism not as the result of any predilection for such a concept, but in order to explain the results of his experiments with smaller and smaller doses of medicines. He originally reduced the dose in order to reduce the toxic effects or aggravations caused by these medicines used in more concentrated form. But besides reducing the toxic side effects, he soon noticed that greater benefits were obtained when the indicated medicine was used in a diluted form. It was only after Hahnemann had observed this enhanced therapeutic effect with increasing dilution and succussion that the connection between dynamization and vitalism began to take shape in his mind.
Hahnemann started to use gradually increasing dilutions of up to 30C. But he was against the use of any higher potency beyond 30C until 1833. However, since there is not a single molecule of medicine left after 12c, we were already in the realm of Campbell’s ‘metaphysics’ as early as 1814-16 rather than 1821 as claimed by him. Moreover, it also shows that there was no break in Hahnemann’s thinking but a gradual evolution of his thinking based on practice and experience. Even at the time of the publication of his Chronic Diseases in 1828, and indeed as late as 1833, Hahnemann was not in favour of the use of potencies above 30C.
Hahnemann then went on to suggest that every human organism, whatever its state of health, was ruled by its vital force. A similar vital force was lying dormant in each natural substance, which was then released by the process of dilution and succussion. When the released vital force of the medicine was applied to the cause of the disease in the prescribed manner, healing resulted. The concept of vital force even in an inanimate substance being released by dynamization – that is, by serial dilution and succussion – was a far cry from the religious or esoteric concept of spiritualism. It was the crude empiricism of critics like Campbell, which rejected everything which could not be seen or weighed or measured or detected by senses as ‘metaphysical’ which was in fact out of line with the advancing knowledge.
Hahnemann realized over years of practice and experience that factors initiating disease were dynamic and were not capable of being recognized or diagnosed by physical, chemical or laboratory analysis.
Kent’s theory of vitalism
This leads us directly to Kent and his role. Kent mainly, but also Hering, brought the seminal formulations of Hahnemann into disrepute by turning his ‘vital force’ into a god-like spiritual force. For Hahnemann, the vital force was an unconscious force without the capacity for reflection, and moreover, it was present in both animate and inanimate things.
The resemblance between Hahnemann’s ‘vital force’ and the concept of Qi (Chi) in tradition Chinese medical philosophy is extremely close. The Qi like vital force is believed to be present both in animate and inanimate substances and was the source of all change.
Kent moved away from this Hahnemannian concept of the vital force. In its place, he substituted his own concept of ‘simple substance’. For him, this ‘simple substance’ was endowed with formative intelligence. In this he followed the Swedish mystic, Emanuel Swedenborg. For Swedenborg, the idea that there was a mystical correspondence between the spirit world and our own, was fundamental. Whatever happened in the spirit world must have its correspondence here on earth. It was natural for a Swedenborgian like Kent to regard this correspondence as a divinely ordained Law of Nature. This, in effect, meant that for Kent the process of discovery and advance in knowledge in any field of human endeavor through research and experiment was irrelevant. What one needed was the knowledge of the Divine Laws and this was for him the foundation of homeopathy.
Contrast between two views highlighted
There could be no greater contrast between these views of Kent and those of his supposed mentor. For Hahnemann, the true healing art is only discovered “by due attention to nature by means of our senses, by careful honest observations and experiments conducted with all possible purity and in no other way”.
Kent’s position was diametrically opposite to those who would discover facts by due attention to nature, by means of the senses, by careful honest observations and experiments, as well as interpreting the results of experiments with medicines with rational insight, as advocated by Christopher Peacocke in the Times Literary Supplement (3). Spinoza said: “So the way to understanding nature or anything of whatever kind, must always be the same, viz through the universal laws and rules of nature” (4). Hahnemann wrote in another context, “I demand no faith at all, and do not demand that anybody should comprehend it: it is enough that it is a fact and nothing else. Experience alone declares it and I believe more in experience than in my own intelligence” (5).
Kent was responsible for importing into Hahnemannian classical homeopathy his own dogmatic and moralistic prejudices. For him and his followers, disease was seen as “as the blight of the corrupted spirit”. It was a moral as well as physical problem and the treatment of the mind and the soul an integral aspect of the therapeutic endeavors. “For Hahnemann, the miasms had been acquired ‘infections’, but for the Swedenborgians (like Kent), they were moral taints passing from generation to generation, and psora in particular took on some of the characteristics of ‘Original Sin’ (my emphasis). (1) Thus according to Kent, all diseases were built on psora.
It was “the very primitive wrong and the spiritual weakness of the human race”. (my emphasis) (5) His main ‘philosophical’ project was to try and reconcile homeopathy with his interpretation of Christian theology, that theology and homeopathy ‘cannot be divorced’, that ‘divine providence must be recognized’
It was the association of psora to the very primitive wrong and the spiritual weakness of the human race that was the basis of the exclusive prominence given to the mental symptoms in Kent’s repertory. On the other hand, Hahnemann’s homeopathy was matching a set of symptoms with a drug picture and especially the matching of uncommon and peculiar symptoms of the patient with similar symptoms recorded during drug provings. For classical homeopathy could literally be defined as a therapeutic method which clinically applied the law of similars.
Hahnemann’s similimum principle jettisoned
This brings me to the main reason for my article. The full version of it was published in 1999. But the problem still remains. In fact during the last few years, the esoteric school – some of its exponents claiming to represent classical homeopathy of Hahnemann whereas others claiming to go beyond him- had a free rein in Homeopathic Link incurring the full wrath of Vithoulkas. This subject – with the consent of the editors – I propose to discuss in my next article.
It is to voice serious concern and even dismay at the almost unstoppable trend within a very significant and influential section of homeopaths – both lay and medically trained – to jettison Hahnemann’s similimum principle that formed the backbone of classical homeopathy, and replace it with Kent’s almost exclusive concentration on the mental symptoms.
I will illustrate with just one case I described in my original article in 1999, presented by one Dr. R. Latha Iyer in the Asian edition of Homeopathic Links. (6)
In case 2, Dr. Latha Iyer described a case in which all the ten rubrics taken were mentals. What was even worse, those taken were based on the homeopath’s own personal interpretation of patient’s history which seemed highly suspect to say the least.
The patient had no one to look after her and she therefore felt lonely. “So she also thought of committing suicide.” The rubric taken for this mild expression was ‘Loathing for life’. This sounded to me as simply incredible. ‘I was religious right from childhood’ the patient had reported. How many Indian women – and coming to that, also Indian men – were not religious from childhood? Notwithstanding, the rubric taken was ‘religious’! Another rubric was ‘Caring’ without the least evidence produced for it. Most Indian women as indeed all mothers are indeed caring for their children, especially – in the case of Indian mothers – when they also happen to be boys. ‘Caring’ might have meant something if it were shown that she was generally caring towards outsiders as well. There was nothing in her story or hobbies (watching cricket; playing carom) to indicate her ‘caring’ nature. On the contrary. Her two sons were married in her absence, presumably due to her objection to ‘intercaste’ marriages: ‘My two daughters-in law were already known to me but I still have hatred towards them’ (my emphasis) Why? Was it because her two sons’ wives came from different castes? That seems to be the most plausible explanation. Whatever the reason, one surely needed an opposite rubric to ‘caring’ if one was to be used at all. The same applied to the rubric ‘sympathetic’, which was also used.
The only mental ‘change’ (see Dr Jacques Jouanny below) reported by the patient was that she had become irritable during her illness. But that was ignored, in line with, one supposes, the attitude of Kent and his spiritualists school which went so far to say that ‘pathognomonic’ signs of the disease have no importance in the selection of the homeopathic drug. (5)
In his book entitled Essentials of Homeopathy (7) the eminent French homeopath Jacques Jouanny categorically states the opposite: “Only changes in general behaviour during the course of illness should be taken into account….” “It should never be forgotten that for Hahnemann the only reactional symptom to be considered was change in the way of feeling or acting” (my emphasis). “The character of the patient is only important if the change in the nervous behaviour occurred at the same time as the chronic disease…” As for psychic symptoms, “they are, however, too unsure for homeopathic physicians to base reactional therapy on them.”
Similar advice in a different context was given by Edward Whitmont (I hope to discuss my disagreement with other aspects of his philosophy in another article) in his seminar Opening Doors. “As soon as we enter into psychological or psychoanalytical field, we are no longer observing, we are interpreting.” Information in this field is less reliable because psychological characteristics have necessarily been based on the interpretive subjectivity of both the therapist and the patient.
Yet despite using only the mental rubrics (and even those used by Dr. Latha Iyer were, as explained in detail above, the results of a dubious interpretive subjectivity of the therapist), the remedy selected by her – namely Aurum muriaticum 200C – according to her case report, apparently worked! All one can say is that it was still not homeopathy. It might be that this and the “Essence’ school have discovered an irrational and unproven therapy based on mystical and subjective predilections of the therapist in collusion with the gullibility of the patient.
Unproven because apart from such therapists’ inevitably subjective assessments of the positive outcomes (at least, in all reported cases) from their prescriptions, there were no objective criteria available to the readers for independently evaluating the results.
1. Campbell A. Two Faces of Homeopathy Robert Hale, London, 1984
2. Nietzsche The Gay Science, p.373 – quoted by Brian Leiter in the Times Literary Supplement, p.31 October 1998
3. Peacocke C. Insights, truth and hope Times Literary Supplement p.34 – 11 September 1998
4. Leiter B. One health, one earth, one sun Times Literary Supplement p.30-31 October 2, 1998
5. Hehr G.S. Was Kent a Hahnemannian? Br Hom J 1984 – p. 71-74
6. Iyer R.L. The same but different – Homeopathic Links 1997 – p.38-39
7. Jouanny J. The Essentials of Homeopathic Materia Medica1984 – France: Boiron, p.78
Mr. Cassam was qualified as a dental surgeon at the Royal Dental Hospital in London and studied acupuncture and homeopathy in the UK. He is currently retired.