Ancient, Christian And Post-Christian Concepts of Human Health Formed During The Evolution of European Philosophy and Science

  • Authors: Myalkina S.A.1, Nenakhov I.G.1
  • Affiliations:
    1. Voronezh State Medical University named after N.N. Burdenko
  • Pages: 135-138
  • URL:

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The article examines the evolution of European ideas about human health from ancient times to the present day. The authors noted how key philosophical and religious beliefs influenced our understanding of health, including the ancient Greek humoral theory, Christian ideas about the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and the modern scientific approach. The article highlights the strengths and weaknesses of each approach and emphasizes the importance of a holistic understanding of health that takes into account the complexity of human experience.

Full Text

The issue of human health has occupied a fundamental place in philosophy and science since ancient times [1]. Understanding the development of ancient, Christian and post-Christian concepts of human health is important because it helps to understand more deeply the foundations of Western medicine and how various philosophical and religious beliefs have influenced it throughout history.
Various concepts of human health, which have been formed for a very long time, undoubtedly influence the development of medicine as a whole. Understanding the basic theories laid down by history and philosophy, the relationship between them and how they have progressed, will help to assess the enormous contribution to modern science. The great breakthrough made in medicine at the present time is due to the most ancient practices.
The purpose of this work is to study the evolution of the concept of human health in European philosophy and science, focusing on the contribution of ancient, Christian and post-Christian thought about the health of the human body and soul.
Materials and methods: general methods of scientific research, analytical method. To achieve this goal, key philosophical and scientific texts that have had a significant impact on our understanding of human health are analyzed. This information allowed us to understand more deeply how ideas about human health were formed and developed in different epochs and what ideas and concepts became the basis of Western medicine. In the course of the research, not only scientific aspects are considered, but also important philosophical and religious beliefs that influenced the formation of the concept of health in different periods of history
The main part.
Ideas about human health that existed in ancient times.
Ancient ideas about human health are of interest for modern scientific research. For example, even in ancient times there is information about the existence of an "obstetric chair", hospital baths and tinctures for anesthesia, which indicates the rapid development of medicine at that time [2].
One of the first theories concerning health was the theory of the four fluids developed by the ancient Greeks. According to this theory, human health depends on the balance of four fluids - blood, sputum, yellow and black bile.
The development of medicine in ancient China had a close connection with philosophy. Sun Simiao (581-682) was the author of two major works on medical practice and Taoist recipes for longevity. Sun took various medications to strengthen his health after suffering childhood illnesses. Sun Simiao is the author of two major medical works under the general title "Recipes for a thousand gold". Sun Simiao's work also includes chapters on diet (ch. 26), life education (ch. 27), pulse diagnostics (ch. 28), a combination of acupuncture and moxibustion, massage and physical exercises (ch. 29-30). The remaining chapters are devoted to herbal recipes [3].
Already in ancient times, the important role of preventive measures was realized. Thus, it was recommended to observe the cleanliness of the dwelling, the body, not to pollute the soil, to eat safe plant and animal products, to choose clean, not swampy rivers and lakes for drinking water, to isolate patients with infectious diseases, etc. [4].
Christian ideas about human health.
Christianity had a significant impact on the worldview of Europeans in the Middle Ages, including attitudes to health. In the Christian tradition, the human body was regarded as sacred, created in the image and likeness of God, and the resurrection of the body after death was an important part of the creed. This has led to the fact that taking care of the body and health has become an important component of spiritual life [5].
In the historical period described, doctors used both Greek humoral theory and Christian beliefs to explain the causes of diseases and maintain health.
In Western Europe, the way of life of society under the influence of Christianity was aimed at caring for the soul and ignored the healing of the human body; there was a ban on studying the internal structure of the body and any surgical interventions; the Church explained the origin of diseases by sin, their healing by God's grace. Helplessness in the face of many diseases has strengthened the formation of the concepts of faith and salvation, contributing to overcoming despair and psychological problems, including in case of deterioration of health, and giving hope for healing, reducing the importance of a lifestyle that preserves health [6].
Post-Christian concepts of human health.
Throughout the modern era, the prevailing worldview has shifted from religion to science. This shift was caused by the scientific revolution that took place in the XVII century, which led to the emergence of new theories of human health based on empirical observations and experiments.
One of the outstanding theorists of Western medicine of the XVII century is the French philosopher Rene Descartes [7]. The largest of Descartes' discoveries, which became the foundation for subsequent psychology and anatomy, is the concept of reflex and the principle of reflex activity. For Descartes, an organism is a part of matter, of which everything in nature consists, and the elements of which constantly interact, and life is the unity of the body's constant reactions to external influences [8]. This is how the mechanistic model of health appeared. Descartes believed that some nerves serve as conductors of impulses arising under the influence of external stimuli to the human brain, while others serve as conductors of impulses from the brain to the muscles that provide movement. The very fact of thinking, according to Descartes, is reflexive and is a necessary expression of a person's life process. A person is aware of himself as existing insofar as he is aware of the very fact of his thinking [8].
Since then, the mechanistic approach has become dominant in Western medicine, as medical professionals and scientists seek to understand the human body through reductionist methods and scientific experiments [9]. This method involves breaking down complex biological systems into components and analyzing each of them separately, and then synthesizing information to understand the system as a whole.
However, in recent years, the mechanistic model of health has been criticized. Some argue that it does not take into account the complex and dynamic interaction between various biological systems within the body, and that reduces human health to a set of measurable, objective indicators that do not reflect the multifaceted nature of human experience [10]. Others believe that this approach ignores the impact of social and environmental factors on health, and that it can perpetuate health inequalities without addressing broader issues.
The results obtained as a result of studying the ideas of ancient, Christian and post-Christian concepts of human health, formed during the evolution of European philosophy and science, allowed us to draw several important conclusions.
Firstly, the theory of the ancient Greeks about the four fluids and the four elements laid the foundation for the modern medical understanding of the human body. The theory of the four humors, in particular, has had a lasting impact on medicine, influencing the development of concepts such as the balance of body fluids and the importance of lifestyle factors for maintaining good health. The connection of various philosophical theories with medicine allowed us to expand the boundaries of understanding about a rational approach to health.
Secondly, the influence of Christianity in the Middle Ages emphasized the importance of taking care of the body as part of spiritual life. This led to more attention being paid to preventive medicine and approaches to health in general.
Thirdly, the mechanistic model of health developed by Descartes and his contemporaries during the scientific revolution has been the dominant paradigm in Western medicine for centuries. This model has been useful for identifying disease mechanisms and developing targeted interventions, but it has also been criticized for its reductionist approach and for ignoring the complex and dynamic interactions between various biological, social and environmental factors affecting health.
The results of the study emphasize the importance of understanding the historical context in which medical concepts and practices developed. It also highlights the need to go beyond the mechanistic model of health and adopt a more holistic approach that takes into account the complex interaction of biological, social and environmental factors in maintaining a high level of health of the world's population.


About the authors

Svetlana Alexeyevna Myalkina

Voronezh State Medical University named after N.N. Burdenko

ORCID iD: 0000-0003-1978-1057

student of the 2th year Faculty of Medicine and Prevention

Russian Federation, 10 Studentskaya str., Voronezh, 394036, Russia

Ivan Gennadievich Nenakhov

Voronezh State Medical University named after N.N. Burdenko

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0001-7942-2844
SPIN-code: 9905-2934

Candidate of Medical Sciences, Associate Professor of the Department
of Hygienic Disciplines

Russian Federation, 10 Studentskaya str., Voronezh, 394036, Russia


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