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The theory that the activities of a living organism are under the guidance of an agency which has none of the attributes of matter or energy.



an idealistic current in biology which posits the existence of a special nonmaterial life force in organisms. Vitalism originated in primitive animism, the idea that all bodies of nature have a conscious life. Elements of vitalism are revealed in the ideas of the greatest thinkers of classical Greece, in Plato’s concept of immortal soul (psyche) and in Aristotle’s concept of a particular nonmaterial force, entelechy, which controls the phenomena of living nature. After the Renaissance the idea of the animation of nonliving bodies gave way to a mechanistic interpretation of inorganic, as well as organic, phenomena. In the 17th century a dualistic doctrine arose which drew a sharp boundary between nonliving bodies in nature and living things. J. B. van Hel-mont established the doctrine of archei, spiritual principles that regulate the activity of body organs. This vitalistic concept was developed in more detail in the beginning of the 18th century by the German doctor G. Stahl, who believed that the soul directs the life of organisms and also ensures their complete structure. In the beginning of the 19th century there was a renaissance of vitalistic ideas as a reaction against the oversimplified mechanistic ideas of such 18th-century French materialists as D. Diderot and J. La Mettrie. The nonmaterial life principle was called formative striving by the German anatomist J. F. Blumenbach; the German naturalist G. R. Treviranus called it a life force (vis vitalis)—from which the name of the whole movement was derived. The vitalistic views of the German physiologist J. Müller were regarded by Lenin as physiological idealism. Müller attributed to living things a creative force that determined unity and harmony. In the second half of the 19th century, oversimplified and distorted mechanistic materialism was again supplanted by a wave of vitalism, called at that time neovitalism. It was inspired by the German biologist H. Driesch, who believed that the essence of living phenomena consists of so-called entelechy (that which contains or realizes its own end), which functions outside time and space and is unknowable. The existence of unknowable life factors was also acknowledged by other vitalists, who called them “life energy,” “life surges,” and “dominant idea.”

In refusing to explain living phenomena, vitalism demonstrates the weakness of idealism in resolving the question of the essence of life and of its origin and development. The source of the vitalistic views that reappear from time to time is the vitalists’ dissatisfaction with mechanistic explanations of living phenomena and their inability to apply the methodology of dialectical materialism to these explanations. Vitalism criticizes the shortcomings of mechanistic materialism’s interpretations of the essence of life and of the main properties of living things; vitalism itself, however, does not transcend the bounds of metaphysical mechanistic methodology. While asserting that life cannot be reduced to the sum total of chemical, physical, and mechanical phenomena, vitalism regards as an absolute the qualitative uniqueness of living phenomena and draws upon invented nonmaterial factors to explain this unique quality. A characteristic of vitalism is its disregard of historical method, first in rejection of C. Darwin’s theory by H. Driesch and his fol-lowers and, later, in the teleological interpretation of evolution by contemporary idealists. Vitalists have always based their position on the fact that certain problems have not been solved, for example, on the supposed impossibility of synthesis of organic substances outside of the organism. As soon as a particular characteristic of life received a scientific, materialist explanation, vitalism appealed to other, still un-studied areas. Vitalism interpreted from an idealistic stand-point not only the nature of living organisms in general but also the nature of consciousness. After the victory of evolutionary ideas in biology, vitalism penetrated into this area in the form of various anti-Darwinian concepts of evolution, such as psycholamarckism and the creative evolution propounded by, among others, the French philosopher H. Bergson.


Engels, F. “Dialektika prirody.” In K. Marks and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 20.
Lenin, V. I. “Materializm i empiriokrititsizm.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18.
Timiriazev, K. A. “Vitalizmi nauka.” Soch., vol. 5. Moscow, 1938.
Driesch, H. Vitalizm: Ego istoriia i sistema. Moscow, 1915.
Teilhard de Chardin, P. Fenomen cheloveka. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from French.)


References in periodicals archive ?
If a biologist wishes to think philosophically, he should realize, with the help of Thomas, that the terms in which ontological reduction are usually put require that he choose between vitalism and reductionism, but that these are not the only possible choices.
Greater engagement with philosophy and a respect for methodological naturalism and evolution is essential, not a revival of vitalism or the natural theology/intelligent design of Paley.
Vitalism consists of beliefs that there is a life force that suffuses the human body, which is health and healing promoting when it is sufficient and balanced, and illness inducing if blocked or unbalanced.
For the appeal of vitalism to some evangelicals, see W.
Vitalism, in contrast, appears to undermine the very point of having a constitution in the first place, allowing constitutional interpretation to become a kind of rhapsodic free association only tangentially connected to the constitutional text.
Within the context of this understanding, Canguilhem explores the legacies of vitalism, particularly its affirmation of the need to keep the question of the relation between life and science, particularly life sciences, open, as they are co-original.
It has also been defined positively as a group of practices/practitioners embodying the characteristics of holism, vitalism, and individualized care (Kelner and Wellman 2000; Micozzi 2001).
In fact, Bloom even sounds like Hazlitt in the following character analysis: "One wouldn't want to marry the Wife of Bath, or carouse with Falstaff, but if you crave vitalism and vitality, then you turn to the Wife of Bath, Panurge (in Rabelais), Sancho Panza (in Cervantes), but most of all to Sir John Falstaff, the true and perfect image of life itself' (284).
Thus "intelligent design" is a supernatural concept that has no place being taught as science, but can with profit be discussed, along with biological vitalism, pre-atomic chemical theories, and the theory that the sun goes round the earth, among case studies of discredited ideas.
Tracing the unfolding of the political thought of the founder of Futurism, Berghaus brings out the inherent ambiguity of the Marinettian notion of violence, indebted to Nietzschean and Bergsonian vitalism, but also closely related to the much more practical project of a violent revolution of the proletariat articulated by George Sorel.
11) Michael Roe, Nine Australian Progressives: vitalism in bourgeois social thought, 1890-1960, Brisbane, 1984; David Walker, 'Climate, Civilization and Character in Australia, 1880-1940', Australian Cultural History, vol.
Her project develops from the scholarship of recent decades that has discovered what orthodox readers long could not see or, as in the case of Richard Bentley's expurgating editorial decisions, actively suppressed--Milton's heretical understanding of creation, especially his vitalism and monism.