After a recent discussion with a colleague about the meaning of the concept “characteristic” in fitting the remedy to the disease, I trawled through the Organon in search of enlightenment.
Here are some of my findings:
First, when applying “characteristic” to the disease picture presented by the patient, in order to be considered characteristic a symptom must be CERTAIN. This is a basic essential in case-taking – to focus first and foremost on the absolute certainties in the case.
Second – a “characteristic” must be MARKED, noticeable. Clearly observable mental disposition is included in this category, becoming crucial when it is part of what has changed in the patient.
Third – a “characteristic” symptom must be PECULIAR TO THE PATIENT. It’s essential to remember that the word “peculiar” must be understood according to the meaning of the time – “specially connected to, typical of”. E..g.
– “Rain, mist and fog in any season is a climate peculiar to the Lake District” – older usage of the word.
– “The Lake District is experiencing a peculiar heavy rain of flying pigs” – newer usage of the word.
Or to be more pertinent to our subject:
If a patient always perspires with anxiety, it is a symptom peculiar to the patient. It is not by any means a peculiar symptom. And if peculiar to the patient, absolutely certain, marked and not commonly seen within the disease picture, it may be essential in the case.
When can a lesser, accessory symptom constitute a characteristic of the patient’s disease picture? When it is certain, marked, peculiar to the patient, and especially when it is not common to the chief complaint.
The issue of the older meaning of “peculiar” cannot be sufficiently stressed in this context. Out of a total of six definitions of the word presented in the Merriam-Webster thesaurus on the internet , three clearly relate to the older meaning of the word, and a fourth is very borderline.
For your edification:
Definition 3: noticeably different from what is generally found or experienced . (in our context, this definition can be seen to relate to symptoms that are not common to the disease, but not necessarily odd symptoms in themselves – vr)
Definition 4: of, relating to, or belonging to a single person – e.g. “his peculiar way of talking”
Definition 5: serving to identify as belonging to an individual or group – e.g. the koala is peculiar to Australia
Definition 6: of a particular or exact sort – e.g. a psychopathic killer who took peculiar delight in torturing his victims
You’ll find aphorisms relating to understanding the concept of “characteristic” below. I recommend pulling out your copy of the Organon, dusting it off carefully, dislodging cobwebs, spiders, and fossilized creatures, and reading these aphorisms in context.
Aphorism 67 (footnote)
Characteristic = stronger, well-marked
Characteristic = the most minute peculiarities
Characteristic = lesser accessory symptoms, which are often very pregnant with meaning
Aphorism 102 (in epidemics)
Characteristic = more signicant, not spun out and verbose
Characteristic = of this malady, more marked and special symptoms which are peculiar to but few diseases and of rarer occurrence, at last in the same combination
Aphorism 133 (proving)
Characteristic = determined especially by modalities
Characteristic = striking, singular, uncommon and peculiar
Characteristic = peculiarly distinctive (of the disease)
Characteristic = distinctive
Aphorism 199 (after surgical/corrosive removal of local symptoms)
Uncharacteristic = too indefinite
Example of a decidedly characteristic symptom – the state of the disposition of the patient
(an aphorism that forms the foundation of immense empires in the sky...vr)