Medical Philosophy vs. Chiropractic Philosophy

Medical Philosophy vs. Chiropractic Philosophy

This section is compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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By Tedd Koren, D.C.

Chiropractic and medicine disagree on what constitutes health, disease, the meaning of symptoms, and the goal of care. These are philosophical differences that go back over 2,500 years.

"But chiropractic is only about 100 years old. How could we have a conflict with medicine for 2,500 years?" I hear you say. Good question.

The answer is that our philosphical roots go way back, as does medicine. In fact two conflicting philosophies of healing - simliar to that of chiropractic and medicine - can be found from the earliest writings of Hippocrates (5th century B.C.) to the present day. The camps were referred to as the Empiricists or Vitalists and the Rationalists or Mechanists. Medical doctors or allopaths are Rationalists, while chiropractors, classical homeopaths, acupuncturists, traditional osteopaths and others are Vitalists.

This was of viewing medical history was discovered by Harris Coulter, Ph.D. one of the great medical historians of our time. In his magnum opus, Divided Legacy, Volumes 1-4, (written over a thirty year period) Coulter traces the vitalist/mechanist division as it permeated healing.

Letís look at how vitalists and mechanists view things: Mechanists assume the body operates like a machine whose whole is equal to the sum of its parts. "Study the body," they say, "study its cells, and its chemistry using disciples such as physics, mechanics and mathematics and the workings of the whole will be revealed."

Vitalists disagree: "Living creatures are fundamentally different from non-living creatures", they say. "The laws of physics, chemistry, mechanics, and mathematics cannot give us a complete knowledge or understanding of biological systems because the whole body is greater than the sum of its parts." Vitalists learn how the body works by studying the living body, not isolated chemicals in a test tube or by making up theories.

This philosophical difference is profound, it colors everything Ė

Mechanists say: "The body is a dumb machine; symptoms are always bad and must be destroyed. Fevers must be lowered, inflammations must be cooled, itching or eruptions must be suppressed, pain must be eliminated - symptoms are bad in and of themselves and must be destroyed."

Vitalists say: "The body is intelligent and reacts to the environment. Symptoms are its response to environmental stress, a sign that the body is fighting to return to itís homeostatic balance. Symptoms must be permitted to express themselves so the body may cleanse and heal and return to normal balance."

Mechanists: "The most important thing is to diagnose the disease the patient has and then fight it. The patientís resistance to disease is not very important."

Vitalists: "More important than diagnosing and treating disease, the individualís innate power of resistance needs to be strengthened so it may heal."

Mechanists: Everyone who has a certain diseases has the same disease as anyone who has that disease."

Vitalists: people are chemically, emotionally, and structurally unique. When caring for a sick person, we should try to learn why that one person is sick in his or her own unique way, and we should not generalize to other people. 100 people with cancer are, if you look closely enough are really expressing 100 unique conditions that have some things in common but many things unique to their situation. The more their care is tailored to their unique needs, the more successful the results.

Mechanists: "We will ultimately know exactly how the body works, what makes it sick and how to make it healthy.

Vitalists: "The body is essentially unknowable. It has billions of parts, each doing its own thing at a fantastic rate. The body is constantly reacting to its environment and changing moment by moment. How can anyone know what is happening at any one time to all those parts? And doesnít the very act of observing alter our results?

Rationalists or Mechanists think believe they can know the body and figure out what it needs in advance. Their procedures are often invented. Empiricists sit in awe of the bodyís functions and state that the only way we can find out how healing works is see how living bodies react. Their procedures are discovered.

Tedd Koren, D.C., a 1977 graduate of Sherman . Dr. Koren can be reached on-line at

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