DOI :10.26650/PB/AA08.2023.002.019   IUP :10.26650/PB/AA08.2023.002.019    Full Text (PDF)

Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī’s Doubts about Galen: The Case of Medical Crisis Theory

Glen M. Cooper

The Iranian born Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī (853-925 CE /239/40-313 H) was one of the earliest and finest examples of an empirical scientist, one who was attentive to data and skeptical of the theories he heard. Al-Rāzī was known for his iconoclastic approach to the solution of scientific or medical challenges, such as his brute force method for determining the best location for the new Baghdad Hospital— observing rotting meat. Furthermore, his critique of Galen (al-šukūk ‘alā Ǧālīnūs) shows his deep understanding of ancient Greek science—and was an early example of an important Arabic tradition of critiquing and correcting the sciences of the Greeks. One such theory was Galen’s theory of the medical crisis, which was closely interwoven with diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy. Between Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq and Ibn al-Nafīs (d. 1288 / 687 H), Galenic crisis theory underwent significant changes in Islamic medicine. Al-Rāzī is of interest because he represents the earlier period of critique and revision of Greek medicine. This paper will consider several examples of al-Rāzī’s empirical approach to medicine, along with his critique of Galen that illustrate his understanding and revision of Galen’s crisis theory. Influential examples of his data collecting are found in two works that will be referred to in this paper. First, by extending the case history tradition of the Hippocratics (which marked the beginnings of scientific medicine to begin with), his compilations of case histories are models for all generations (Kitāb al-taǧārib). Second, his Kitāb al-Ḥāwī compilation is a testament to his skill at collecting important passages from earlier authors. His example was later followed by other physicians, among whom was Moses Maimonides (Mūsā ibn Maymūn, d. 1204 CE). The Kitāb al-Ḥāwī was also a gift to posterity, since some of the quoted works are no longer extant.


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