Meaning of Vitalism

What is Vitalism:

The word vitalism has several meanings. In its common meaning, vitalism means the condition of expressing vitality. That is to say, a vitalist person would be one who expresses great energy, motivation and joy in the vital experience.

However, the term vitalism also brings together various doctrines of thoughtboth scientific and philosophical, according to which life cannot be reduced to physical, mechanical or chemical factors.

vitalism in science

The first formulation of vitalism as a doctrine derives from natural science. As a current, vitalism is related to the studies of biology of the eighteenth century, and arises as a reaction to the mechanism advocated by various scientific approaches of the seventeenth century.

In this sense, the vitalist theory was developed and defended by Paul Joseph Barthez, a member of the Montpellier school in France. For the thinkers of this current, there is an evident separation between the living world and the inert world, that is, between the animate and inanimate worlds.

It is not a religious approach per se, according to which the human being is endowed with an anima, a soul, which can be understood as a supernatural phenomenon.

It is rather a vital principle that mobilizes beings, which is responsible for their behavior, and that cannot be attributed to mechanical or physical principles. This principle is called “vital force” according to Claude Bernard, “entelechy” according to Hans Driesh and “dominant force” according to Johannes Reinke.

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See also Life.

vitalism in philosophy

In philosophy, vitalism has been expressed in different currents and has different implications, although it starts from the same principle. Also known as life philosophy.

It was formulated between the 19th and 20th centuries in opposition to philosophical rationalism. For the philosophers of this current, life is not a mere response to rational mechanisms and, furthermore, it is valuable in itself and not in terms of elements that are foreign to it.

For philosophical vitalism in general, human life is seen as a process and, as such, cannot be reduced to mechanical behavior or mere rationalism.

In this sense, there were at least two currents of philosophical vitalism:

  1. That which advocates the exaltation of life from the biological point of view and
  2. That which advocates life in a historical or biographical sense.

In the first, elements such as the appreciation of instinct stand out, including the survival instinct, intuition, the body, force and nature. One of his theorists would be Friedrich Nietzsche.

In the second, the assessment of the vital experience itself stands out, that is, the value of the set of human experiences that a person accumulates throughout his existence, which also values ​​the perspective and theory of generations. In this trend we can mention the Spanish Ortega y Gasset.

See also:

  • Nihilism.
  • modern philosophy.