Article Index ||| NCAHF Home Page

Misuse of the Term "Allopathy"

William T. Jarvis, Ph.D

The term "allopathy" was invented by German physician Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843). He conjoined allos "opposite" and pathos "suffering" as a referent to harsh medical practices of his era which included bleeding, purging, vomiting and the administration of highly toxic drugs. These practices were based on the ancient Greek humoral theory which attributed disease to an imbalance of four humors (i.e., blood, phlegm, and black and yellow bile) and four bodily conditions (i.e, hot, cold, wet and dry) that corresponded to four elements (earth, air, fire, and water). Physicians following the Hippocratic tradition attempted to balance the humors by treating symptoms with "opposites." For instance, fever (hot) was believed due to excess blood because patients were flush; therefore, balance was sought by blood-letting in order to "cool" the patient. Hahnemann sought to replace allopathy with his "law of similia" that treated "like with like," a prescientific idea that he had discovered from reading ancient sources. Hahnemann had abandoned medical practice because of his inability to heal his patients by the methods of his era. He earned money by translating classical works into German leading him to ancient medical ideas. (Kaufman M. "Homeopathy in America: The Rise and Fall and Persistence of a Medical Heresy," in Other Healers: Unorthodox Medicine in America, Ed. Norman Gevitz, Johns Hopkins, 1988.

Although many modern therapies can be construed to conform to an allopathic rationale (eg, using a laxative to relieve constipation), standard medicine has never paid allegiance to an allopathic principle. The label "allopath" was considered highly derisive by regular medicine. A 1902 book intended for new medical graduates reveals just how vehemently Medical Doctors once opposed and resented the label:

Remember that the term "Allopath" is a false nickname not chosen by regular physicians at all, but cunningly coined, and put in wicked use against us, in his venomous crusade against Regular Medicine by its enemy, Hahnemann, and ever since applied to us by our enemies with all the insinuations and derisive use the term afford. "Allopathy" applied to regular medicine is both untrue and offensive and is no more accepted by us that the term "Heretics" is accepted by the Protestants, or "Niggers" by the Blacks [1]. The terms "allopath" and "allopathy" are often used in reference to Medical Doctors and standard medicine by medical writers. Such use generally reflects an alternate definition of allopathy: "a system of medical practice making use of all measures proved of value (emphasis added) in treatment of disease." [2] This definition accurately describes modern, science-based medicine, but is inconsistent with its root words "allos" and "pathos." The duplicity of the term aids those who wish to misrepresent medicine as ideologically allopathic (i.e., symptom suppression). NCAHF recommends that these terms not be used in reference to standard medicine or MDs.

Significance of a Misnomer.

Although medicine never accepted the label of allopathy, nonmedical practitioners such as chiropractors, homeopaths, and naturopaths regularly misrepresent physicians as "allopaths." This is usually done in order to make differences between their practice guilds appear based upon conflicting philosophies rather than ideology versus science. Opponents of medicine claim that they treat the underlying causes of disease, while MDs treat only the symptoms. Further, they claim that medicine suppresses the symptoms, thus interfering with the body's inherent healing processes. A close examination reveals that this line of reasoning is only clever rhetoric. When they say the are treating the underlying causes, these vitalistic ideologists refer to a metaphysical life force rather than actual causes of disease such as viruses, bacteria, protozoa, genetic defects, radiation, chemical insult, and so forth. In reality, chiropractic manipulative therapy's main value is symptomatic relief from back pain. Homeopathy has always been based upon symptomatic relief. Homeopathic remedies are based upon a process called "proving" which identifies prospective remedies by matching the symptoms they produce in high dosages with the symptoms reported by a patient.

Naturopathy is eclectic, but none of its nonstandard medical modalities is truly aimed at causation. The discovery of the true causes of disease can be attributed to the basic sciences. Pasteur was a chemist trying to understand how wine was made. The idea of a metaphysical life force has never been objectively verified, nor is the theory of its existence required to explain a single biological phenomenon. Scientific work on the real causes of disease are on-going. For a state of the art look at this, NCAHF recommends a review of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health.

Nonscientific Health Care Based upon Vitalism

A number of healing systems care are rooted in vitalism: "a doctrine that the functions of a living organism are due to a vital principle distinct from physicochemical forces, [3]" or, "the theory that biological activities are directed by a supernatural force; opposed to mechanism," [4] which denotes a paranormal "life force." Vitalists are not just nonscientific, they are antiscientific because they abhor the reductionism (ie, versus holism) of science, the materialism (versus etherealism) of science, and the mechanistic (versus mystical) causal processes of science. They prefer subjective experience to objective testing, and place intuitiveness above reason and logic. Vitalistics are in sync with postmodernist antiscience liberal arts academics and are receiving aid and comfort from many of them who are in positions of influece. Vitalism is a powerful motivating force because it is inextricably linked to the concept of an immortal human soul—a piece of the Divine that is the essence of existence. This connects vitalism to religious ideologies and explains why Sarton stated that "it is impossible to suppress the vitalist point of view; it dodges every blow and reappears under a new form." [5] This table lists the names given to the alleged "life force" in the commonly promoted vitalistic systems:

Healing System // Originator

Name(s) Given the Alleged "Life Force"

Anthroposophical Medicine // Rudolph Steiner Divine element in nature; astral body; formative force; ether body
Ayurvedic Medicine // Traditional Hindu medicine Prana
Chiropractic // Daniel D. Palmer Innate
Energy Medicine Energy body, aura, Kirlian effect, etc.
Homeopathy // Samuel Hahnemann) Vital energy
Magnetic Healing // Franz Anton Mesmer Animal magnetism
Naturopathy Vis Medicatrix Naturae
Primitive Medicine (see cultural manifestations above)
Radiesthesia (Medical Dowsing) Radiation
Reichian psychotherapy // Wilhelm Reich Orgone energy
Therapeutic Touch // Dolores Krieger Prana ("pranic healing" in ancient earth/fertility religion, Wicca)
Traditional Chinese Medicine // Taoism Chi, Qi, Ki

Quotations from authoritative sources from a few of the above healing systems express the quasi-religious natures of vitalistic ideologies better than any words NCAHF could choose.

Chiropractic. "The founder of...chiropractic appreciated the working of Universal Intelligence (God); the function of Innate Intelligence (Soul, Spirit or Spark of Life) within each, which he recognized as a minute segment of Universal; and the fundamental causes of interference to the planned expression of that Innate Intelligence in the form of Mental, Chemical and/or Mechanical Stresses, which create the structural distortions that interfere with nerve supply." [6]

Homeopathy. "Hahnemann is a child of the modern age of natural science, an adept in the chemistry of his day. But he can still hold a conviction that an immaterial vital entity animates our organism until death when the purely chemical forces prevail and decompose it. This vital entity which he characterizes as immaterial, spirit-like, and which maintains in health the harmonious wholeness of the organism, is in fact the wholeness of it." [7] Naturopathy. "Orthodox medicine assumes that the world is chaotic, mechanistic. We believe in the Vital Force which has inherent organization, is intelligent and intelligible. Chiropractors have adjustments, Acupuncturists have needles, we have Vis Medicatrix Naturae. Our way is to research the mystery and beauty of the life force, in which we have faith. Our power and our responsibility is to bring the life force into the light." [8]

Naturopaths claim to be the inheritors of the Hippocratic tradition, and pay lip service to the Vis Medicatrix Naturae [9], but their belief in the "life force" reveals that they do not understand the most important point of Hippocrates's revolutionary proposition that the healing power of nature was not a supernatural force.


  1. Cathel DW and Cathel W. Book on the Physician Himself, Philadelphia: Davis, 1902, pp.300-301; in Stalker and Glymour. Examining Holistic Medicine, Buffalo: Prometheus, 1985, p.34.
  2. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary.
  3. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary.
  4. Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 25th Edition. WB Saunders Co. 1974.
  5. Sarton. A History of Science, Volume I. W.W. Norton & Company, 1952, p.497.
  6. Homewood. The Neurodynamics of the Vertebral Subluxation. Chiropractic Publishers, 1973.
  7. Twentyman. "The nature of homeopathy," Royal Soc Hlth J, 1982;102:221-5.
  8. Pam Snider, ND, 1991 AANP Convention, Into the Light. Townsend Letter for Doctors, April, 1992, p.261.
  9. Statement of philosophy, Bulletin of the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, undated, circa 1993.

Copyright Notice

© 1996 National Council Against Health Fraud. With proper citation, this article may be reproduced for noncommercial purposes

Article Index ||| NCAHF Home Page

This article was posted on December 1, 2000.