Discovery of the Germ

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F. Lauren Williams
April 4, 2013
Problems with Monocausal Explanations of Disease

The discovery of germs has been a long process in history and still ongoing today. John Waller, author of The Discovery of the Germ: Twenty Years That Transformed the Way We Think about Disease, has stated as his thesis in this book, “…between 1880 and 1900…medicine underwent perhaps its greatest ever transformation. In just 20 years, the central role of germs in producing illness was for the first time decisively demonstrated and Western doctors abandoned misconceived ideas about the causes and nature of disease that had persisted, in one form or another, for thousands of years (Waller 1).” The germ theory replaced the medical society’s beliefs that relied on the humoral theory for thousands of years. The question that has risen is whether or not there is a problem with monocausal explanations of disease.

Waller’s thesis begins with the idea of a 20 year transformation of medicine. This is true because medicine did a complete 180 in its beliefs, practices, and studies. The germ theory wasn’t only a transformation of medicine, but a revolution of medical practice as we know it today. Waller then explains that the central role of germs lies within the cause of illnesses, in which he is talking about the germ theory so this, will lead to the idea that germs equal disease. The final portion of his thesis is the most intriguing when he states that, “…Western doctors abandoned misconceived ideas about the causes and nature of disease…” For thousands of years, cause of disease was backed by the humoral theory and the focus was on the patient (his/her culture, society, etc.). Waller’s thesis explains that even today, these ideas have been abandoned, but history of medicine proves that monocausal explanations of disease are problematic in treatment of disease.

The humoral theory was first proposed by Hippocrates in some part of his life span between 460 and 370 B.C. This theory...
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