Topic: vitalism, the soul

topics > science > Group: relationship between brain and behavior

philosophy of science

coordinated motor programs
intelligent machines
limitations of formalism
metaphysics and epistemology
people better than computers
reality is a machine
philosophy of mind
problem of other minds


Vitalism is the use of a vital force, fluid or material to explain the difference between living and non-living things. It's two main exponents were Aristotle [On the Soul; On the Generation of Animals] and Hans Driesch [History and Theory of Vitalism 1914]. It has been unsuccessful at explaining nature, and is widely denounced in scientific education. The alternative explanations are that life is mechanism or that life is an emergent property of complex systems. [Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

Despite this, several leading scientists and philosophers share the commonsense view that life fundamentally differs from mechanism. The list includes Newton, Boole, Wittgenstein, Bohr, Maxwell, Helmholtz, Dyson, Penrose, Bernstein, and Kripke.

Perhaps the leading argument for vitalism is the existence of consciousness and our ascription of consciousness to others.

In a sense, vitalism does not explain anything. Instead it states a fact, a given that must be accounted for in daily life. Its importance is that your attitude towards vitalism influences the kinds of systems that you build. If you see life as mechanism, then your systems will treat people as mechanism, i.e., as components of the system. If you see life as life, then your systems may treat people as different from the system. (cbb 3/94)

Subtopic: life as elementary fact up

Quote: Bohr emphasized that the existence of life must be considered as an elementary fact and the starting point for biology [»jakiSL_1969]
Quote: what has to be accepted, the given, is forms of life [»wittL_1958a]
Quote: a living substance is a monad with its body; infinite levels of life [»leibGW_1714]
Quote: unlike AI, perhaps nature is graceful all the way down
Quote: a simple substance or perception is a monad, i.e., a self-sufficient, self-moved, incorporeal entity [»leibGW_1679]
Quote: matter, however subdivided, always includes organic bodies with souls
Quote: in every parcel of matter there is an infinity of created things
Quote: the most one can do is to fashion something or ourselves and drop it into the confusion; an offering to the life force [»beckE_1973]
Quote: nature as unconscious intelligence is unintelligible; but some law must exist for the origin of life and organization [»wallAR_1870, OK]
Quote: mind can not arise from mindless parts; either all matter is consciousness, or consciousness is distinct from matter [»wallAR_1870, OK]
Quote: it is improbable that the lower animals are mere machines; such opinions are against the order of things [»leibGW_1679]
Quote: atoms have to swerve a little, by the smallest possible degree; otherwise they would fall like rain and never collide [»lucr_55]

Subtopic: mental component to universe up

Quote: it is reasonable to believe in the existence of a mental component to the universe (God) [»dysoF_1988]
Quote: a universe governed by laws that do not allow consciousness is no universe at all; current mathematical descriptions fail this criterion [»penrR_1989]
Quote: life is consciousness of space and time; competition for space is one of the primitive forms of biological interaction [»thomR_1975]
Quote: there is more to objects than extension; must be something like a soul or substantial form [»leibGW_1686b]
Quote: if our will initiates at least one force, then all force is ultimately will-force [»wallAR_1870, OK]
Quote: the universe is the will of higher intelligences or a supreme intelligence
Quote: a substance satisfies predicates or qualities at various times; e.g., the Ego
Quote: if atoms do not swerve a little, where does freewill come from? these motions have their beginning in the whim of each atom [»lucr_55]
Quote: freewill must arise from something other than collisions of atoms; it is not bowed by necessity; nothing can emerge from nothingness [»lucr_55]
Quote: freewill is due to the slight swerve of atoms, at a random time and place

Subtopic: voluntary motion up

Quote: at the starting gate horses cannot burst free as quickly as the mind desires; voluntary motion has its impetus in thought [»lucr_55]

Subtopic: diversity from ultimate being up

Quote: blind necessity could produce no variety of things; diversity is due to the ideas and will of a Being necessarily existing [»newtI_1685, OK]

Subtopic: life as atomic up

Quote: every substance has a true unity that is indivisible [»leibGW_1686c]
Quote: can't really split up life and not simple if do split
Quote: organic bodies have indivisible, vital principles; bodies are multitudes subject to dissolution of their parts [»leibGW5_1705]
Quote: the mind is distinct from the body because the body is always divisible but the mind is indivisible [»descR_1641]
Quote: the science of philosophy studies the attributes and contraries of being as being; a single common reference [»aris_322a]

Subtopic: the soul up

Quote: the psyche is that in virtue of which something is alive [»aris_322b]
Quote: the soul is the first principle of living things; investigate is nature, substance, and accidental properties [»aris_322b]
Quote: soul is the form, the first actuality, of a natural body which potentially has life [»aris_322b]
Quote: a soul's being is in motion; a number can not provide the movement
Quote: any body that has organs has a soul; e.g., a plant, its roots are like the mouth
Quote: my attitude towards a person in pain is an attitude toward a soul; we rush to his aid, we attempt to comfort him; not like a mechanism [»kripSA_1982]
Quote: we see our fellow humans as human beings, not as physical systems; e.g., we ascribe mental states rather than describe behavior [»kripSA_1982]
Quote: an animal is a soul with memory and feelings; distinct perceptions [»leibGW_1714]
Quote: the soul may be nutritive, perceptive, desiderative, locomotive, and intellective; plants have only the nutritive [»aris_322b]
Quote: it is difficult to understand the soul [»aris_322b]
Quote: every soul knows everything past and future, but confusedly; like the sound of the sea containing every wave; only God has distinct knowledge [»leibGW_1714]
Quote: every soul is a world apart; contains all predicates past and future; by principle of sufficient reason
Quote: mind is a soul with reason

Subtopic: body and soul up

Quote: the soul is the Form of a living body [»aris_322b]
Quote: pain, hunger, etc. demonstrate that one's self and one's body are tightly joined into a single thing; not intellect in isolation [»descR_1641]
Quote: body and soul can not synchronize through mutual influence or assistance; requires exchange or deus ex machina
Quote: vital principles do not change the course of motion; motion is part of the pre-established order of nature [»leibGW5_1705]
Quote: universal rules--natural motion follows mechanical laws, independence of body and soul, body and souls are everywhere [»leibGW5_1705]
Quote: bodies follow the laws of motion; souls follow their own laws about good and evil
Quote: pre-established harmony--bodies and souls correspond to each other like perfectly regulated clocks
Quote: pre-established, perfect harmony between the final causes of monads and the efficient causes of bodies; body and soul can not change the laws of the other
Quote: the system of occasional causes needs a perpetual miracle to adapt the thoughts of the soul to the impressions of the body
Quote: body and soul synchronize through pre-established harmony like perfect clocks
Quote: the soul is not separable from the body; is the soul as the sailor of a boat or the actuality of a body [»aris_322b]
Quote: soul is man's primary being and the body is his material; man is both body and soul; as is animals [»aris_322a]

Subtopic: soul as number up

Quote: the most irrational accounts of the soul is that the soul is a number that moves itself [»aris_322b]
Quote: Pythagoreans saw numbers as the primary natures, the elements of all things; including justice, soul, mind, musical modes, relations, heaven [»aris_322a]

Subtopic: soul as language up

Quote: identify conceptual schemes with languages and the soul; can languages be non-translatable [»daviD11_1974]
Quote: when you rearrange atoms, their order, shapes and motions, then you also change what they compose; just like written language [»lucr_55]

Subtopic: living parts up

Quote: if a whole has living parts, it cannot be like lifeless wholes [»weinGM_1979]
Quote: the strength life owns is such, that vivid life is what one sees in the mere shadows of denuded bones of living trees [»heinP_1972]
Quote: wintertime notations of the melodies of Spring [»heinP_1972]

Subtopic: limits of science up

Quote: Maxwell--human personality lies quite beyond the range of science [»jakiSL_1969]
Quote: Helmholtz complained about using conservation of energy to promote scientific materialism
Quote: the molecular basis of life is incapable of proof and inconsistent with molecular physics

Subtopic: limits of computation up

Quote: everything (including minds) need not be a digital computer [»penrR_1989]
Quote: the human is not a symbolic information processor [»cherV7_1978]
Quote: though formal reasoning may obey mathematical laws, the mind is much more; e.g., sentiment, action, and the duties of life [»boolG_1854, OK]
Quote: one can image that people are automata, but just try to keep hold of this idea in the midst of your ordinary intercourse with others [»wittL_1958a]

Subtopic: living vs. artificial system up

Quote: Bernstein studies the principal difference between living and artificial systems [»bernN_1967]

Subtopic: life as evolution up

Quote: a living thing is what can evolve by natural selection [»shapR_1986]

Subtopic: life from atoms up

Quote: a pile of atoms that are not repetitious like a crystal or liquid might well be human
Quote: if animals have feelings because their atoms have feelings, there's nowhere you can stand; atoms do not laugh, nor are they skilled in philosophical discourse [»lucr_55]
Quote: feelings and intelligence arise from combinations of particles that are themselves devoid of all sensation

Related Topics up

Group: philosophy of science   (10 topics, 406 quotes)

Topic: biology (26 items)
Topic: consciousness (58 items)
Topic: coordinated motor programs (29 items)
Topic: intelligent machines (28 items)
Topic: limitations of formalism (93 items)
Topic: metaphysics and epistemology (99 items)
Topic: people better than computers (35 items)
Topic: reality is a machine (48 items)
Topic: philosophy of mind (78 items)
Topic: problem of other minds (11 items)
Topic: responsibility
(12 items)

Updated barberCB 7/05
Copyright © 2002-2008 by C. Bradford Barber. All rights reserved.
Thesa is a trademark of C. Bradford Barber.