KENT’S INFLUENCE ON BRITISH HOMEOPATHY
by Peter Morrell
Honorary Research Associate in the History of Medicine, Staffordshire University, UK
Kents philosophy was the end of REAL medical homeopathy.
Kent also created the first coherent, persuasive and highly influential philosophy, which has largely gone unchallenged within the movement. It was formulated as a synthesis of Swedenborgian mysticism and the more romantic portions of Hahnemann’s Organon and the Miasm Theory of The Chronic Diseases [see Kent, 1900, Lectures on Homeopathic Philosophy].
However, as quickly became apparent, Kent’s homeopathy was rooted in a rather dogmatic and puritanical attitude, and seems to derive from a pedantically scholastic and uncritical reverence for everything Hahnemann wrote.
“Kentianism, then, was metaphysical, dogmatic, puritanical and millennial. Homoeopaths who failed to achieve results with the high dilutions lacked intellectual skill and rigour, as well as the moral fibre for the arduous task of identifying the simillimum. In short, so far as Kentians were concerned, the faithless were responsible for the corruption and decline of the movement.” [Treuherz, 1983]
It is also deductive and didactic and denies that the facts of the outer world are in any sense superior to, or an arbiter for, theoretical ‘principles’. In that sense it seems stubbornly medieval in its extreme deductivism. It turns its back completely on the empirical approach of scientific rationalism and thus on allopathy.
‘When a man thinks from the microscope, and his neighbor’s opinion, he thinks false-ly. Nothing good can come from this. Evil must take place, and changes, which are the ultimates of his internal thought, will take place in the body’ [Kent, 1926]
‘The microbe is not the cause of disease. We should not be carried away by these idle Allopathic dreams and vain imaginations but should correct the Vital Force'[Kent, 1926]
‘The Bacterium is an innocent feller, and if he carries disease he carries the Simple Substance which causes disease, just as an elephant would.’ [Kent, 1926]
This stubborn determination to studiously ignore the rest of medicine and the ‘ideological push’ of the last 200 years, makes it appear to the modern eye, as reactionary, hard-line and perverse.
“You cannot divorce medicine and theology. Man exists all the way down from his innermost spiritual, to his outermost natural.” [Kent, 1926]
‘Experience has a place in science, but only a confirmatory place. It can only confirm that which has been discovered through principle or law guiding in the proper direction. Experience leads to no discoveries, but when man is fully indoctrinated in principle that which he observes by experience may confirm the things that are consistent with law.’ [Kent, 1900, p.40]
This passage, which is typical of Kent, can only make sense to a follower of pure dogma; Hahnemann, for example, would have totally disagreed by saying that ‘experience’ had taught him all he knew. Science, like homeopathy, is rooted in observations and experiments in the outer world, not in the enforcement of dogmas. Kent seems to place ‘the cart before the horse’ by stressing the philosophy and principles of homeopathy over and above the simple fact that it is primarily a system of therapeutics in which the progress of the patient is always far more important than the religious [or other] beliefs of the practitioner. In every science principles derive from observations, and do not dictate them.
Maybe this ideal of detachment and emotional neutrality even science subtly fails to comply with at times. Science occasionally gainsays the event before it happens and in effect dictates the outcome or ‘spin’ which should be placed upon some experimental data. This may be based upon theoretical considerations, political or financial factors. For example, the allopathic view of most clinical trials of unorthodox medicine, can hardly be described as ‘emotionally neutral’ or detached. Someone watching a horse-race with a million dollars placed on one horse, can hardly be expected to manifest very much emotional detachment and neutrality!
However, as one of the most important homeopaths after Hahnemann, Kent has had a big influence as a theoretician, a practitioner, a writer and as a teacher of homeopathy. His influence has been especially strong on American, Indian and British homeopathy [see Nicholls, 1988, p.186], while the Continentals seem to have been largely untouched by his influence, except in Switzerland and the influence of Dr. Pierre Schmidt. In the case of India, their delight in homeopathy in general and Kentianism specifically might depend to some degree upon their own general interest in philosophical aphorisms and religious matters. Homeopathy supplies them both; Kent supplies them in profusion.
As a follower of the Christian mystical sect of Immanuel Swedenborg, Kent delivered a blend of Hahnemann’s Organon and miasm theory, spiritual forces and a crude psychology, comprising only will, understanding and intellect [see Aphorisms].Some details of Kent’s ‘psychology’ and his ‘hierarchies’ are discussed by Taylor [1997, pp.5-7], elaborated by Vithoulkas [1980, pp.23-57 and especially pp.46-7 and pp.23-25], and considered by Sharma [1995, pp.39-40].Kent approached his philosophy with typical vigour. He viewed all Hahnemann’s works and especially The Organon with a fundamentalist zeal, seeking to amplify and reinterpret every word of the Master, much like a theology scholar or biblical commentator. His Lectures On Philosophy, for example, form quite literally a rambling Swedenborgian commentary to the first half of Hahnemann’s Organon. To him these were precious and immutable homeopathic truths that it is sacrilege for anyone even to question, let alone ignore, dilute, negotiate or compromise. He even goes as far as saying:
‘A man who cannot believe in God cannot become a homoeopath.'[Kent, 1926, Aphorisms]
It is especially in Kent’s rather arrogant use of language, which hits us when reading his works, which really illustrates this fundamentalism and the precious certainty of his approach to homeopathy. The following quote from many possible ones, clearly demonstrates this:
‘…beware of the opinions of men of science. Hahnemann has given us principles… it is law that governs the world and not matters of opinion or hypotheses. We must begin by having a respect for law, for we have no starting point unless we base our propositions on law.’ [Kent, 1900, p.18]
Kent infers that homeopaths should base their whole approach upon the hard dogmatism of these ideas, which he elevates to the status of certitudes, and not upon the ever-shifting ideas of ‘mere men’. He is claiming a great authority and power behind such ‘immutable principles’, a power which like some divine form, stands ‘above and behind us’ and which we dare not abrogate or dilute for fear of one’s soul’s damnation.
As an attitude, this is so indistinguishable from that of fundamentalist religion, that it is clearly apparent how this form of homeopathy possessed, and generated for itself, so many problems with creative and imaginative people who much prefer to experiment and find truths out for themselves, eg. Samuel Hahnemann. This whole approach denies anyone the privilege or luxury of that kind of freedom. Total and unquestioning devotion to a given creed seems to be the basis of Kentianism, not reason or real-world experiment. As to whether Kent was truly a Hahnemannian homeopath see Henr 1995 and Cassam, 1999.
It is especially when he lapses into the moral sphere of homeopathy that his deep dogmatism reveals itself. When he is speaking purely about homeopathy, which is comparatively rare, he does well, but as soon as he enters human affairs, a certain clearly-recognisable ‘Bible-punching’ tone seems to shines through. As the following quotes clearly demonstrate:
‘It is law that governs the world and not matters of opinion or hypothesis. We must begin by having a respect for law…’ [Kent, 1900, p.18]
‘This means law, it means fixed principles, it means a law as certain as that of gravitation… our principles have never changed, they have always been the same and will remain the same…’ [Kent, 1900, p.28]
‘Had Psora never been established as a miasm upon the human race, the other two chronic diseases would have been impossible and susceptibility to acute diseases would have been impossible…’ [ibid. p.126]
Kent would have no dealings with allopaths nor with low-dilutionists, who were pejoratively portrayed as ‘mongrel, milk-and-water half-homeopaths’. Homeopathy was seen very dogmatically by them as pure classical homeopathy as ‘laid down in tablets of stone by the master’ or nothing. This narrow, simplistic and somewhat inflexible view of homeopathy had split American homeopathy right down the middle, causing a very acrimonious clash of ideologies. It is generally conceded that this bitter wrangling contributed significantly to the precipitous decline of homeopathy in the USA during the first half of this century [Kaufman, Coulter, Rothstein, Gevitz].
The Swedenborgian influence
To Swedenborg, the realms of nature, and particularly the body and mind of man, were theatres of divine activity…A ‘universal analogy’ existed between the various realms of creation. The physical world was symbolical of the spir-itual world and this, in turn, of God. He conceived a resonant system of hierarchies of God, universe and man. He became a theologian and established the ‘Church of the New Jerusalem’ [see Nicholls, 1988, pp.262-5; also Rankin, pp.70, 82, 94-5, 107, 112].
A Supreme Divine purpose reigned throughout creation. The life of the universe, whether physical, mental or spiritual was the activity of Divine Love. The physical universe is given its true place in the economy of creation, the womb of man’s most enduring and real life. Briefly, Swedenborg was heretical to mainstream Christianity, because he espoused that personal liberation could be won easily from an all-loving God and that ‘original sin’ was non-existent.
‘…he dispensed with the idea of original sin’, [Treuherz, 1983, p.48]
As with Paracelsus and ‘later theosophies’, the link with homeopathy is to be found in the vast hierarchies of form and spirit that he conceived as existing between God, mind and matter and penetrating throughout the universe. Kent linked all of this to the process of potentisation, the vital force and the miasms of Hahnemann, seeing them both as philosophies that fully confirm each other and which for him, married together splendidly, into a new organic creation. The following quotes from his Aphorisms more than amply illustrate this point:
‘Radiant substances have degrees within degrees, in series too numerous for the finite mind to grasp.’
‘The lower potency corresponds to a series of outer degrees, less fine and less interior than the higher.’
‘When it has passed to simple substance, the Radiant form of matter, it has infinite degrees. To express the degrees from the Outermost to the Innermost, we might say a grain of Silica is the Outermost; the Innermost is The Creator.’
‘There are degrees of fineness of the Vital Force. We may think of internal man as possessing infinite degrees and of external man as possessing finite degrees.’
‘There are degrees within degrees to infinity.’
‘Low potencies can cure acute diseases because acute diseases act upon the outermost degree of the Simple Substance and the body. In chronic disease the trouble is deeper seated, and the degrees are finer, hence the remedy must be reduced to finer or higher degrees so as to be similar to the degrees of chronic disease.’
Swedenborg composed a ‘theory of correspondences or connections between the visible and invisible worlds’, [Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, 1981, p.617]. The James family including Henry and William were Swedenborgians and in Massachusetts and East Coast ‘among its adherents [were] most of the social, intellectual and business elite.’ [Coulter, vol. 3, pp.467-8; see also Winston, 1999, pp.166-7]. At that time, many of the ‘Transcendentalists’, led by Emerson, were very taken with philosophies like Swedenborg’s.
Henry James 1843-1916
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Self portrait of
William Blake (1757-1827)
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)
Another important adherent was Dr. John James Garth Wilkinson [1812-99] who was a big friend of Henry James senior. Wilkinson had trained at Hahnemann College Philadelphia and published several books on the sect. Indeed, many people were attracted to Swedenborg’s ideas, including the English artist and poet William Blake [see F Treuherz, 1983, The Homeopaths, 4:2, winter 1983, Heklae Lava or the Influence of Swedenborg on Homeopathy, p.36-7 [pp.35-53; see also Barrow, 1985]; re Blake see Ackroyd, 1994:
‘[Blake]… picked up separate ideas, or fragments of knowledge, as he needed them. He was a synthesiser and a systematiser, like so many of his generation, but it was his own synthesis designed to establish his own system of belief… he borrowed notions from Swedenborg or Paracelsus. He was above everything else an artist and not an orthodox thinker’ [Ackroyd, p.90]
‘…Blake has picked up elements of Thomas Taylor’s Neoplatonism as well as Swedenborgian doctrine and some alchemical terminology. Everything upon the earth has a spiritual correspondence, and the world itself is inspired with the breath of divine humanity.’ [Ackroyd, p.116]
‘Blake was very clear about his spiritual ancestors. He told John Flaxman that ‘Paracelsus and Behmen appeared to me’, but their arrival meant he turned away from Swedenborg. ‘Swedenborg’s writings are a recapitulation of all superficial opinions, and an analysis of the more sublime, but no further. Have now another plain fact: any man of mechanical talents may from the writings of Paracelsus or Jacob Behmen, produce ten thousand volumes of equal value with Swedenborg’s.’ It is true that the writings of Paracelsus and Boehme [Behmen] do seem to come from a purer spring of spiritual revelation than those of Swedenborg…’ [Ackroyd, p.147]
‘..many critics have noticed how intimately the ‘Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ is related to Blake’s movement from Swedenborg towards Boehme and Paracelsus…’ [Ackroyd, p.15]
‘…there is no doubt that the ‘Marriage’ represents Blake’s most serious attack upon Swedenborg and Swedenborgians…’ [Ackroyd, p.153]
There are definite links with other forms of American Transcendentalism in the 19th century especially the Romantic literary figures like Thoreau, Hawthorne and Emerson.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1882)
The teachings of Swedenborg are especially reflected in Kent’s ‘Lectures on Homeopathic Philosophy’, where they are shaken up with parts of Hahnemann’s Organon to form an attractive but baffling cocktail of ideas. Before his death, he published three main works: ‘Repertory’, ‘Lecture on Materia Medica’, ‘Lectures On Philosophy’. He also edited the ‘Journal of Homeopathics’ from 1897 to 1903: seven volumes, constituting the lectures which he gave to advanced doctors and personal articles. Kent’s writings on Philosophy and Materia Medica were published in this journal before they came out in book form. After his death a collection of aphorisms, lesser writings and notes and cases was published [1926, ‘Lesser Writings, New Remedies, Aphorisms, etc.’].
Kent seemed to emphasise a rather tenuous link between religion and science and this spilled out into a form of hard, dogmatic, fundamentalist creed. There seemed to be no middle ground, no shade of grey.
Presumably this approach worked well in the USA at that time and held converts of homeopathy together. Over here it tended to make Kentian homeopaths look rather strange and to set homeopathy itself even further apart from mainstream allopathy than before. Once the Kentian creed became the official, legitimised creed of the BHS [c.1910-60] then it seemed that one had to be like that in order to practise any form of homeopathy. This tended to push homeopathy as a subject, even further out on a limb from allopathy than before, and thus no further dialogue between them became possible.
“In practice, Kentian homeopathy was, according to Wheeler, ‘slightly contemptuous of any attempt to make terms with other medical knowledge regarding, as it were, the teaching as something so transcendental that no reasoned explanations are likely to have any validity.”
It is of interest that Dr. Percy Hall-Smith, in 1930, a member of the BHS, said:
“My own conviction is that our teaching is not sufficiently practical, and the approach unduly philosophical, and too far removed from the line of thought of the average doctor… It requires a rather special type of mind and outlook to swallow at the first blush undiluted ‘Kentian principles’. The average mind trained on a more materialistic basis is liable to be repelled by such teaching at the outset. “
Dr Gordon Smith [Faculty]:
“But for high dilution, the man of the 200th potency is nowhere, he is still among the crudities of posology. For we have brethren who are not happy till they get to the 10,000th, and even then they are not quite at home, they deem the 100,000th a good point to start from, and hence upwards to anything you like… I am satisfied in my mind that the 100,000th potency or dilution made according to, and by, the Hahnemannian method has never yet been seen on our planet. And if it should some day make its appearance, someone will have spent much time over its preparation which might have been employed to better purpose.”
Kent’s Obituary appeared in the BHJ 6, 1916, pp. 337, 541. As Kent himself implies, in order to be a good homeopath one must also be a good Swedenborgian first! This idea is relatively easy to illustrate from looking at his writings, which are packed with aphoristic certitudes.
Disease might be seen as an entirely human phenomenon. It probably also reflects the fact that nature ‘in the raw’ is in a state of near-perfect balance and harmony, which contrasts with the many conflicts and disharmonies of the world of human affairs.
We can also argue that perhaps it is the ‘moral uprightness’ of animals which protects them from disease. By ‘moral uprightness’ I mean their purity and the way they stick very strictly to their received pathways in life, never deviating from ingrained habit patterns and conventionalised patterns of accepted behaviour. By contrast, humans seem to lack these ingrained habit patterns and to conduct themselves in various diverse ways driven on according to their own innate willpower. No doubt Kent, and other religious moralists, would tend to regard ‘the way you live your life’ as being very intimately bound up with the quality of such a life [on a spiritual basis] and its relative ‘sickness’ with regard to the possible experience of suffering, symptoms and signs of disorder, imbalance and disease. Such moralists, as we shall see, do regard disease as having a moral dimension, and of very largely deriving from slack morals.
Kent took the view that the basis for this human ‘origin’ of disease is moral. That means that we have disease because we have lost a moral order for our lives, and that it is a direct and inevitable result. Are the two equated at all?
We don’t have to search very hard to find a mass of moral ideas within homeopathy which illustrate how puritanical and moralising homeopaths tend to be. The following quotes from Kent’s Lectures and from his Lesser Writings reveal a very rich seam of such material:
“You cannot divorce medicine and theology. Man exists all the way down from his innermost spiritual to his outermost natural” [Kent, 1926, Lesser Writings, p.641]
“A man who cannot believe in God cannot become a homeopath.” [ibid., p.671]
‘The body became corrupt because man’s interior will became corrupt.’ [ibid., p.681]
‘Man… becomes disposed to sickness by doing evil, through thinking wrong…’ [ibid., p.664]
‘Psora is the evolution of the state of man’s will, the ultimates of sin.’ [ibid., p.654]
‘This outgrowth, which has come upon man from living a life of evil willing, is Psora.’ [ibid., p.654]
‘Thinking, willing and doing are the 3 things in life from which finally proceed the chronic miasms.’ [ibid., p.654]
‘…had Psora never been established as a miasm upon the human race… susceptibility to acute diseases would have been impossible… it is the foundation of all sickness.’ [Kent, 1900, p.126]
‘Psora… is a state of susceptibility to disease from willing evils.’ [ibid., p.135]
‘The human race today walking the face of the earth, is but little better than a moral leper. Such is the state of the human mind at the present day. To put it another way everyone is Psoric.’ [ibid., p.135]
‘Psora… would not exist in a perfectly healthy race.’ [ibid., p.133]
‘As long as man continued to think that which was true and held that which was good to the neighbour, that which was uprightness and justice, so long man remained free from disease, because that was the state in which he was created.’ [ibid., p.134]
‘The internal state of man is prior to that which surrounds him; therefore, the environment is not the cause…’ [ibid., p.136]
‘Diseases correspond to man’s affections, and the diseases upon the human race today are but the outward expression of man’s interiors… man hates his neighbour, he is willing to violate every commandment; such is the state of man today. This state is represented in man’s diseases.’ [ibid., p.136]
‘The Itch is looked upon as a disgraceful affair; so is everything that has a similar correspondence; because the Itch in itself has a correspondence with adultery…’ [ibid., p.137]
‘How long can this thing go on before the human race is swept from the earth with the results of the suppression of Psora?’ [ibid., pp.137-8]
‘Psora is the beginning of all physical sickness… is the underlying cause and is the primitive or primary disorder of the human race.’ [ibid., p.126]
‘…for it goes to the very primitive wrong of the human race, the very first sickness of the human race that is the spiritual sickness… which in turn laid the foundation for other diseases. [ibid., p.126]
It seems pretty clear from these quotes that Kent took a very puritanical and moral line about the origins of disease within the human race and he apparently felt that Psora was equivalent to Original Sin or the Fall of Man. That is the clear implication of the above remarks he made. He got himself into this very strange position very largely from insisting that homeopathy necessarily involves a religious dimension which places a moral duty upon the practitioner, and thus the homeopath has a morally redeeming influence through cure. Thus he viewed the homeopath as a Godly saviour who dispenses spiritual as well as physical cures; and that illness stems from a corrupted state of man, which homeopathy can cure. Kent’s logic is rather like…’all sick men are bad; Socrates is sick, therefore Socrates is bad’. And he also contends:
‘all sickness originates from internal causes; internal causes are spiritual; therefore all sickness has a spiritual basis’
And then from there he equates internal and spiritual causes as the miasms. Thus in his view the miasms are to be viewed as internal spiritual sins, or derivatives of them.
He also avers another line of argument:
‘all disease causes [inner world] are invisible and nebulous; all potentised remedies are of a similar nature; thus potentised substance, and especially the higher potencies, are the only means of curing disease [by reaching into the subtle interior realm of disease causes]’
This also leads to his oft-repeated adage of ‘the higher the deeper’. This probably also forms the basis for his strong advocacy and use of the very highest potencies. In this manner we can analyse and dissect Kent’s brand of homeopathy.
Like the Mediaeval Churchmen, Kent shows a remarkable devotion to deductive logic and an apparent ignorance of induction or of knowledge based upon experiment, data and the evidence of the senses, to which he also remains either oblivious or contemptuous. There are some good parallels between Kent and Thomas Aquinas [1225-74] in that both treat their subject matter with immense reverence as received dogma which cannot even be questioned, and then build upon that base their towers of speculation and philosophy. Both also tend in the direction of rigid dogmatism, excessive preciousness and zealous devotion to ‘truth’ as received dogma, not as freedom of thought or experimentation, towards which both seem utterly opposed.
Kent, like many others seems to regard illness as an unwanted evil, obtained through contamination, which must be ‘cleansed’ out of the system by the healer. In most cultures the healer is thus regarded as an agent of divine assistance, a cleanser, or purifier of souls.
Kent seems to have causally linked together two otherwise distinct and separate observations, which may not be causally connected at all. Is it really true that lack of morals leads to disease? Are the sick to be viewed as bad? And the bad as sick? And what of those who die of cancer, disfigured by arthritis, ravaged by Human BSE, muscular dystrophy or MS? Are we to truly believe they ‘deserved’ those illnesses? And to have reaped what they have sown? Or is this all a nonsense? It is so very hard to say. Perhaps Kent has mistaken ‘moral rectitude’ with health and purity and hence concluded that disease must therefore stem, pretty fundamentally, from an amoral or immoral position. But it is surely quite a different thing to arrive at such a conclusion from sustained observation and contemplation of the natural world, than it is by deciding that is the way things have to be, because some religious dogmas say so.