1 Historical Introduction INTRODUCTION This chapter is mainly about the history of medicine and its ethics. As usually c- ceived, history is retrograde: It is what happened yesterday, and, much as we may try, it is what happened yesterday seen with a set of today’s eyes. Trying to understand yesterday’s culture may help us put on a pair of corrective glasses, but it fails in - tirely correcting our vision. Contemporary cultural anthropology may likewise help us understand the way today’s events and cultural habits shape what we call history tomorrow. Past events and the kaleidoscopic pattern of today’s cultures may help guide us into a future that in at least some respects is ours to forge. Learning about ethics yesterday and thinking about ethics as it expresses itself in various cultures today can help us shape the ethics of tomorrow: This is true whether we are speaking of that part of social ethics called “medical” or of any other part of social ethics. The social aspects of medical practice—how the institution called medicine fits into and works within the greater society called culture—shape the way its ethics ultimately must play itself out.