Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/77

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HYGIENE AS A BASIS OF MORALS.
HYGIENE AS A BASIS OF MORALS.[1]

By FRANCES EMILY WHITE, M.D.,

PROFESSOR OF PHYSIOLOGY AND HYGIENE IN THE WOMAN'S MEDICAL COLLEGE OF PENNSYLVANIA.

IN the philosophy of Fichte, that prince among German idealists, the universe of matter, so called, is reduced to ideas, and that by a method of reasoning which the ablest opponents of idealism find it difficult to refute. This, doubtless, Fichte could easily arrange, so long as his brain, digestive apparatus, etc., were in good working condition; but let a congestion of the organ of mind or of its meninges set in, and what becomes of Fichte's ideas?

Sensibility (by which it is meant to indicate the whole mental life, from mere consciousness to the profoundest thinking) is never manifested (so far as known) apart from a certain mechanism, the living body; and while the universe may, in the last analysis, be reduced to matter and force, these two can not be divorced—not even by a Fichte. Since, therefore, the human body is admitted to be an integrant part of the universe of matter, its various activities must be included in the general category of forces. If, then, it be conceded that the body and mind of man hold to each other the same relations which exist between other aggregations of matter and their associated energies, the physician, though he minister to the body only, becomes thereby the high-priest of humanity, contributing to its noblest ends.

But in the parting words which it is my privilege to address to you (upon whom has just been conferred the responsible and honored title of Doctor of Medicine), I desire to point out a yet more excellent way in the pursuit of which you may indeed become the benefactors of mankind. The art of exterminating disease does not exist; and, although the death-rate varies in different localities and in the same locality under varying conditions, so far as recorded, no disease, once originated, has ever wholly disappeared; and while we may take a justifiable satisfaction in the advances made in the rational treatment of the sufferer from disease, the sources of disease (except so far as bacteriology gives promise in this direction) have not been disturbed, either by the progress in general civilization or by the great development of medical science and art. Both the experience of the past and modern scientific observation, then, alike point—not in the direction of the extirpation or even of the cure of actual disease—but rather in that of preventive medicine or hygiene as presenting the most hopeful field for future work. Not that I would undervalue the efforts of the profession toward the relief of suffering when disease actually exists—a most important and beneficent part of its work but, just as exer-

  1. Address delivered at the thirty-fifth annual commencement.