Med Ges Gesch. 1995 ; 13(): 9-34.
Institut für Geschichte der Medizin, Lübeck.
The history of the tradition of medical texts written in the vernacular in the Middle Ages, in particular the strict synchronic study of manuscripts, reveals that we are not dealing with specialized knowledge for experts but with information which was available to anybody who could read. The medical layman and with him the potential patient thus shifted into the centre of interest. The study of these texts illustrated the medieval concept of "knowledge" and the understanding of "reality". It emerged that empiricism in our sense played an important, but not the most important role. Trust in the world order led to the application of principles of analogous magic and faith in the truth of classical Latin tradition and the authority of the ancients went almost unbroken. However, the decisive factor is that the same degree of "reality" was attributed to humoral pathology as is to cellular pathology today. As to the significance of the texts, this means that they conveyed both theoretical intellectual knowledge and concrete practical knowledge from which experts and amateurs were able to benefit in different ways. Whereas ideas are usually developed inductively, medieval argument was conducted deductively, that is, based on natural philosophy not on natural science, and followed therefore the tradition of classical antiquity. In the final analysis it is this factor which, in spite of differing standards, unites learned and popular medicine.