Philinus of Cos

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(b. Cos; fl. ca. 250 b. c.)


Philinus of Cos, about whom very little information has survived (we do not know the titles of any of his works), played an interesting role in the beginnings of the empirical school of medicine and of medical skepticism. As a native of Cos he certainly was acquainted with the Hippocratic tradition. He studied under Herophilus, who originally belonged to the Coan school of physicians. It is not known whether, like his teacher, Philinus spent time in Alexandria; but it is known that by severing relations with Herophilus he helped to establish the empirical school of medicine (see Deichgräber, fr. 6), which had close contacts with the philosophy of skepticism. Since Heropilus also had such contacts (see F. Kudlien,“Herophilos und der Beginn der medizinischen Skepsis,” in Gesnerus, 21 [1964], 1–13), the difference between him and his pupil may not be evident. The answer is that Philinus was fundamentally more rigorous than his teacher. He evidently transformed the latter’s etiological skepticism (the chief causes of disease are not known) into an etiological nihilism (it is impossible to know the causes.) This transformation had consequences in medical diagnostics: in oppostion to his teacher, Philinus denied the utility of reading the pulse and “thereby shut medicine’s diagnostic eyes” (see Deichgräber, fr. 77). On this point at least, Philinus’ medical ideas emerge more clearly than H. Diller supposed; but beyond it nothing can be affirmed concerning Philinus.


Accounts of Philinus are collected in K. Deichgräber, Die griechische Empirikerschule, 2nd enlarged ed. (Berlin–Zurich, 1965). See also H. Diller’s short article “Philinos no. 9,” in Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, XIX (Stuttgart, 1938), cols. 2193–2194.

Fridolf Kudlien

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Philinus of Cos

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