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Issues in Homeopathic Philosophy - It's time for a clear definition of homeopathy

Although this was written as a letter to the editor, I found it made enough points about homeopathic principles and philosophy that the author and I decided to use it as his regular column.     —Julian Winston

I have just read the May 2001 Homeopathy Today and have some comments about the perennial theme of defining homeopathy. The group letter to the editor ("Against Divisiveness") addressed this subject head-on. At the recent annual NCH conference, defining homeopathy was also identified by most of the homeopathic organizations as a major, unsolved problem.
     In his response to the letter, Editor Julian Winston referred to the four-point definition of homeopathy found in the NCH founding documents: (1) law of similars, (2) single remedy, (3) minimum dose, and (4) human provings. This definition is so vague that it has become almost meaningless, as the ongoing discussion and failure to have a consensus on the issue make clear.

The law of similars
The specific disagreement is all centered on the law of similars. Neither side of this argument disputes the central importance of the law; rather, the dispute arises in the application of the law. I suggest this is a non-issue based on the precepts of Hahnemann's Organon.
     Hahnemann's law of similars is based on similar diseases. However, as I pointed out in my column in the same May issue, knowing this is not enough to understand what he means. The word disease was used by Hahnemann to refer to different concepts, depending on the point he was making. With regard to the current subject, the active definition of disease is the "totality" or the "drug picture." (The term "picture" is used by Dudgeon, "image" by Decker.) Hahnemann defined disease as a subset of the symptoms that form a picture or image. In other words, it is impossible to practice homeopathy without the use of the synthetic imagination, without studying the diversity of symptoms and picking from them those that form the disease picture, the totality.
     Therefore, the work of Sankaran, Scholten, Mangialavori, and others fits squarely within the concept of picturing the totality, as long as it is based on the symptoms. Pattern recognition is not only acceptable, it is an irreducible element of the homeopathic technique. Hahnemann's law of similars is about comparing "pictures," not atomistic groups of symptoms.
     A picture can be further abstracted and thought of as a "signature." A signature is a concrete thing that is a sign of a disease or a remedy. In Hahnemann's time, signatures were mostly naive, based on a comparison of the color and shape of a substance and a corresponding organ or bodily system to divine the use of the plant. For example, turmeric root was given for jaundice based on its color (yellow). Hahnemann deprecated the use of such "doctrine of signatures" as being theoretical and not based on scientific observation.
     Today, signatures are widely used and referred to in homeopathy, but they have become much more sophisticated and can be said to be based on empirical data (symptoms), rather than speculation. This is not to say they can be used to prescribe on, but rather that they are useful in the same way miasms are, as mnemonics.

The single remedy
This criterion of the definition of homeopathy, although on its face simple, also gets ambiguous in the face of the issue of multiple disease pictures (totalities) existing in the same person at the same time. Hahnemann said each totality gets one remedy at a time, and he acknowledged that it is possible to have multiple totalities. He said chronic disease totalities often require more than one remedy, but administered sequentially, not in the same dose. At one side of this argument are the "sequential therapists." At another side are polypharmacists. On another side are the ill-defined "classical" homeopaths. I am not suggesting any answers to resolve the dispute, merely pointing out it is undeniably ambiguous, and any doctrinal stand that does not address this issue explicitly is inadequate.

The minimum dose
This criterion may have had some relevance before about 1815, but with the institutionalization within homeopathy of Hahnemann's pharmaceutical techniques for the preparation of remedies, it became meaningless. Is the 30C potency more minimum than the 200C or the 50M? Is one #10 pellet more minimum than 8 ounces of water stirred with a #35 pellet? The absurdity of maintaining this as a key element of the definition of homeopathy should be obvious.

As to the provings, I must admit to getting woozy when I read the contemporary reports. I get this image of a bunch of eager young students, diligently and idealistically recording each new thought and feeling that comes their way, all having grown up in a self-centered society, with no sense of the grounding that comes with a continuous, supervised discipline of self-awareness. However, with the remarkable cures reported from purely mental prescribing, perhaps this is appropriate. Human provings, however, are, in my opinion, fundamental.
     Homeopathy is more salutary than allopathy because its law of cure is more accurately defined. This is Hahnemann's point in aphorisms 52--69 of the Organon. Homeopathy's power is in its definition of disease and cure, especially its definition of chronic disease. In today's world, it is in this point that homeopathy far exceeds anything found in allopathy. Hahnemann said that homeopathy works because it removes the disorder in the vital force. This occurs because the remedial disease picture substitutes for the natural disease picture, in the process destroying the disorder. This is the meaning of the law of similars (Organon, aphorism 45). Allopathy can never attain this because it is based on a mechanical model in which the disorder is either not addressed or addressed palliatively.

Elements of a proposed definition of homeopathy
I suggest, therefore, that the definition of homeopathy include as a key factor belief in Hahnemann's theory of disease as expressed in the 6th edition of the Organon because:
     1) it expands the idea of the totality from the presenting symptoms to include deeper symptoms
     2) it requires individualization of the case
     3) it encompasses the vitalistic model, but does not require it, as it can be read to be simply an expansion of the idea of the totality
     4) its definition means the only way to eradicate a disease is by the law of similars.
     I think the three key factors in defining homeopathy are: Hahnemann's theory of disease, the law of similars, and the measure of a remedy's action by provings. Routinism (which is not excluded by the NCH by-laws) and the use of "diagnostic" machines (e.g., EAV), should be explicitly excluded from the definition, in my opinion.
     Since the "single remedy" tenet is not a part of this definition, it follows that polypharmacy must be addressed. Polypharmacy is of two kinds, both of which are based on the law of similars: 1) formulations such as those advertised for use as palliatives or for acute disorders, and 2) that which arises in the treatment of complex chronic diseases as set forth in the Organon, including use of a remedy at the same time another remedy is still acting. The first must be excluded from the definition, but not the second. The emphasis on a single remedy does not accomplish this, but the focus on the theory of disease does.
     This definition does not exclude sequential therapy. Sequential therapy accepts Hahnemann's theory of disease, cure based on the law of similars, and provings as the measure of a remedy. That the self-anointed "classical" homeopaths exclude those who use sequential therapy from the inner circle is hypocritical after 200 years of homeopathic practice and the routine use of non-homeopathic techniques by everyone in the field.
     By focusing on this definition, it becomes easier to distinguish homeopathy from the other health care systems with which it is either confused or compared. This focuses attention on the real power of homeopathy—it has a fully functional and powerful theory of chronic diseases and a relatively harmless means of treating them.
     The "classical" definition works neither within nor without the community. Within the community it is problematic because it is not purely Hahnemannian, no one can agree what it means, and it is not strictly adhered to by anyone. It often sounds more like a modality of "homeopathy" than a definition of what homeopathy is. Since there is no central idea the majority of the community can agree on, there is no internal consistency.
     Those outside of the homeopathic community see a weakness and fractiousness because of this. The objection to a broader, more inclusive, definition has been raised that it has been tried and it resulted in the watering down of homeopathy. This attempt was made in the middle of the nineteenth century, when the political (health care) atmosphere and environment was much different. Now homeopathy has been lumped in with many other licensed health care modalities, all of which, with one or two exceptions, are far inferior to it. The public and the government though, cannot distinguish homeopathy from herbalism, natural health care, non-toxic medicines, and so on. There is a much different need now than there was 150 years ago.
     The history of defining homeopathy began in Hahnemann's time. As soon as there was a community of homeopaths, the definition became a negotiated, political affair. Even elements of the purest and most complete definition of homeopathy, the Organon, were negotiated. The idea that there is a pure definition of homeopathy that is less than the Organon and that can be formulated in a few phrases must be recognized to be a difficult, political matter in all circumstances.
     The definition of homeopathy needs to be reconsidered and revised so it can be a rallying point for the community. The believers in Hahnemann's laws of disease and cure should focus on their strengths and commonality. If this is done, partisan arguments can be put aside and the larger goals of uniformity in education and distinguishing homeopathy in the public and governmental eye can be advanced.

About the author:
John Lunstroth is a lawyer and student of homeopathy in Houston, Texas. He is a member of the board of directors of the Texas Society of Homeopathy and can be reached at