The End of Monarchy

Paul U. Unschuld

in What Is Medicine?

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 2009 | ISBN: 9780520257658
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520944701 | DOI:
The End of Monarchy

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This chapter sheds light on the doctrine of the four elements of life. A man named Empedocles who lived in the fifth century brought an idea that no single element, water, apeiron, or air, can be the foundation of all life, but that the foundation is rather an equal coexistence of four elements or basic substances. Fire, water, air, and earth are all equally important for life. It is their mixture that creates life, indeed, even the entire universe. The body disclosed no real clues that fire, water, air, and earth were its basic substances. It was sometimes hot, sometimes cold that could be taken as a clue to the existence of fire in the organism. The body excretes up to two liters of fluid at regular intervals and there are further excretions such as sweat or tears at irregular intervals, or under special circumstances. It was the sufficient evidence for water as a basic substance for life. The four elements in a mixture are present in larger or smaller quantities determining the individual nature of things.

Keywords: doctrine of the four elements; basic substances for life; origin of medicine; human organism; physiological studies

Chapter.  1468 words. 

Subjects: Medical Anthropology

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