What is the Philosophy Behind Homeopathy?

Contributor(s): Karen Lawson, MD

The founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, was a physician in Germany in the late 1700s who was disillusioned by the predominant medical practices of the day, which included blood letting, purging, and poisoning with mercury and arsenic. Rebelling, he quit medical practice and began making a living as a chemist and translator of medical and science books.

Samuel Hahnemann, founder of homeopathyAfter a contemporary author suggested that the reason cinchona bark (quinine) worked in the treatment of malaria was due to its bitterness, Hahnemann, who could name other bitter substances that had no helpful effect on malaria, began to experiment on himself.

He found that by taking doses of cinchona, he went on to develop the symptoms of malaria-fever, chills, sweats, body pains. He paid particular attention to the details of the symptoms: the time and rhythm of the fever, when the sweats happened in relation to the fever, the nature and smell of the sweat, the location and characteristics of the pains, and his mental state.

Law of Similars

Hahnemann proposed that because cinchona produces malaria-like symptoms in a healthy person, it had the ability to cure malaria in those who were afflicted.

This theory, this Law of Similars, was not new to Hahnemann and is found throughout the annuls of medical history:

  • Ayurvedic medicine practitioners applied this law of similars in recognizing and prescribing herbal therapies in ancient India.
  • Hippocrates is known to have said, "Through the like, disease is produced, and through the application of the like it is cured" (4th century B.C., Greece).
  • The famed Delphic Oracle in Greece proclaimed "that which makes sick shall heal." 
  • Paracelsus, a well-known 16th-century physician and alchemist formulated the "Doctrine of Signatures," which spoke directly of the value of using similars in healing: "You there bring together the same anatomy of the herbs and the same anatomy of the illness into one order. This simile gives you understanding of the way in which you shall heal."

Law of Proving

Remedy bottleHahnemann went on to test many other substances on himself, as well as his friends and family members, documenting his findings. This was called the Law of Proving-a healthy subject ingesting a small amount of a substance over time will develop a symptom picture related to that particular remedy. Provings are still the process used today to discover the healing properties of individual substances, and more than 5,000 substances have been studied and cataloged to date.

Law of Potency

In his experimentation, Hahnemann also developed the Law of Potency. He found that by making an alcohol extract of the substance, like cinchona, and diluting it sequentially, with vigorous shaking, the remedy had increased abilities to heal, with a minimization of side effects (see What are Homeopathic Remedies?). When Hahnemann began using such remedies in the treatment of patients, homeopathy was born.

The high dilutions used by Hahnemann were challenged by his contemporaries, even prior to our understanding of the way medicines work in the body, and how the strength of the body's response is directly related to the level of chemical (drug) in the body. But Hahnemann's clinical results spoke for themselves.

Vital Force

Hahnemann proposed that the "wesen," or life force, keeps all parts of the human organism in harmony and allows it to function.  (See his classic text, The Organon of the Medical Art.) When people are sick, this life force is dynamically mistuned, which is evident in the symptoms of their illness. Hahnemann believed that a cure could only occur by making a dynamic impact upon the life force and that homeopathic remedies do this.

Hahnemann's life force is now most commonly referred to as Vital Force. In modern terminology, this is the "energetic field" of the body, and homeopaths believe that the remedies impact this energetic field.

Other complementary therapies, including acupuncture, healing touch, and Reiki, are believed to work through energetic mechanisms in the body. However, because bioenergetics are not well understood or even accepted in conventional scientific medical circles, the ability of homeopathy to act is not understood and often still distrusted by conventional physicians. (See Is There Good Scientific Evidence?).


Dooley, Timothy, ND, MD (1995). Homeopathy: Beyond Flat Earth Medicine. California: Timing Publications.
Hahnemann, Samuel, MD (1997). The Organon of the Medical Art (W.B. O'Reilly, Ed.). Washington: Birdcage Books.

Mirman, Jacob, MD. Demystifying Homeopathy: A Concise Guide to Homeopathic Medicine. Available online at http://www.bookonhealing.com.