Skip to main content

Who was Rudolph Virchow?

Rudolf Virchow NLM3.jpg

A name from my childhood, when for a period I was fascinated by the history of microbiology.

Virchow was born in 1821 and lived until 1902. He was involved in anthropology, politics, etc. but is best known for his contributions to medical research.

Virchow is considered the father of modern pathology. He applied cell theory, already then much discussed, to explain the effects of infection on organs and tissues of the human body.

The basic insight was that the causes of disease are to be found not at the tissue level, but at the cellular level. This led him to especially groundbreaking work in the area of cancer, where he was the first to hypothesize that cancerous cells were originally normal healthy cells, not invaders.

He also made great strides regarding thromboembolism, setting out the hypothesis that pulmonary thrombi are carried from the veins of the leg by the flow of blood, then doing the experiments that proved this point.

Unfortunately, where there is light there is shadow. Virchow moved medicine forward in some respects, but he impeded its progress in others. He rejected the theory that bacteria cause disease, and opposed Ignaz Semmelweiss' advocacy of antisepsis.


Popular posts from this blog

Great Chain of Being

One of the points that Lovejoy makes in the book of that title I mentioned last week is the importance, in the Neo-Platonist conceptions and in the later development of the "chain of being" metaphor, of what he calls the principle of plenitude. This is the underlying notion that everything that can exist must exist, that creation would not be possible at all were it to leave gaps.

The value of this idea for a certain type of theodicy is clear enough.

This caused theological difficulties when these ideas were absorbed into Christianity.  I'll quote a bit of what Lovejoy has to say about those difficulties:

"For that conception, when taken over into Christianity, had to be accommodated to very different principles, drawn from other sources, which forbade its literal interpretation; to carry it through to what seemed to be its necessary implications was to be sure of falling into one theological pitfall or another."

The big pitfalls were: determinism on the on…

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…