Science and Sophistry

R. J. Hankinson

in Cause and Explanation in Ancient Greek Thought

Published in print October 2001 | ISBN: 9780199246564
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597572 | DOI:
Science and Sophistry

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In this chapter, Hankinson considers the treatment of causation and explanation in two important strands of Ancient Greek thought: rational medicine and the sophistic movement. The Hippocratic treatises of the fifth century bc represent a movement in Greek medical practice away from traditional types of explanation of disease in favour of a naturalistic, physiological model of human pathology, which leads to the emergence of the allopathic causal principle, ‘opposites cure opposites’. The Hippocratic treatises distinguished internal, constitutional factors from external causes, a distinction that helps towards explaining why some people are affected by a disease, or benefited from a cure, while others are not. Drawing upon Antiphon and Gorgias, Hankinson also discusses the sophist contribution to causation and explanation, in particular their emphasis on responsibility in the explanation of action. Finally, Hankinson highlights a tendency, evident in Herodotus’ History and also in the medical treatise Airs, Waters, Places, to explain general traits of physique and character in terms of ethnography, i.e. on the basis of environment, climate, and lifestyle.

Keywords: action; allopathic causal principle; Antiphon; ethnography; Gorgias; Hippocratic treatises; human pathology; opposites; responsibility; sophistic movement

Chapter.  15771 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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