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The theory or doctrine that life processes arise from or contain a nonmaterial vital principle and cannot be explained entirely as physical and chemical phenomena.

vi′tal·ist adj. & n.
vi′tal·is′tic adj.


(Philosophy) the philosophical doctrine that the phenomena of life cannot be explained in purely mechanical terms because there is something immaterial which distinguishes living from inanimate matter. Compare dynamism, mechanism
ˈvitalist n, adj
ˌvitalˈistic adj


(ˈvaɪt lˌɪz əm)
1. the doctrine that phenomena are only partly controlled by mechanical forces, and are in some measure self-determining. Compare dynamism (def. 1), mechanism (def. 6).
2. Biol. a doctrine that attributes the viability of a living organism to a vital principle distinct from the physical and chemical processes of life.
vi′tal•ist, n., adj.
vi`tal•is′tic, adj.
vi`tal•is′ti•cal•ly, adv.


1. Philosophy. the doctrine that phenomena are only partly controlled by mechanistic forces and are in some measure self-determining.
2. Biology. the doctrine that the life in living organisms is caused and sustained by a vital principle that is distinct from all physical and chemical forces. Cf. mechanism. — vitalist, n. — vitalistic, adj.
See also: Life
1. the doctrine that phenomena are only partly controlled by mechanical forces and are in some measure self-determining. Cf. mechanism, organicism.
2. the doctrine that ascribes the functions of a living organism to a vital principle (as élan vital) distinct from physical or chemical forces. Cf. dynamism.vitalist, n., adj.vitalistic, adj.
See also: Philosophy
ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Noun1.vitalism - (philosophy) a doctrine that life is a vital principle distinct from physics and chemistry
philosophy - the rational investigation of questions about existence and knowledge and ethics
philosophical doctrine, philosophical theory - a doctrine accepted by adherents to a philosophy
References in periodicals archive ?
Another Finitude: Messianic Vitalism and Philosophy
During the nineteenth century, there was a very active debate between two basic schools of thought: vitalism and reductionism.
The final section "From Neo-Hippocraticism to the Avant-Garde" opens with the materialist Pedro Mata y Fontanet, who debunked neo-Hippocratic vitalism equating it with the "unmodern," at the same time that Spanish Krausism recast vital force in social and moral terms, "instrumental in building the ideal society of the future, a society unhampered by the conservatism of State-sponsored development" (202).
She argues that shifting Romanticism's focus from Spinoza to Lucretius can unseat dominant critical terms like pantheism, vitalism, and organicism, and instead highlight atomistic, contingent, fragile accounts of living form.
The invocation of both Einsteinian physics and Bergsonian vitalism here is telling: the new theories of atomic energy, on the one hand, and the new theories of the "elan vital," on the other, both suggest a theory of "forces" and "energies" as the necessary mode of existence of all the art forms.
Consider "[r]hythm is the pulse of the unitary vitalism which flows through and permeates the African's mind and world....
By denying humans the capacity to create categories, Deleuzean vitalism is ultimately no better than a form of spirituality.
(14) Ten years after the 2nd World War, the German Worterbuch der Philosophie (Dictionary of Philosophy) of 1955 lists Driesch very briefly a as neo-vitalist, (15) (in contrast to the classical vitalism of 1750-1850 before materialism became dominant), but does not mention at all Driesch's many contributions to various other branches of philosophy, in particular: the philosophy of perceiving and knowing (epistemology), the philosophy of mind, the science-philosophy of psychology, moreover moral philosophy and philosophical ethics, in which Driesch's initial biological theme does not stand in the foreground of attention.
Thus the history of the Church dogma itself was seen as having somehow fallen from a moment of authenticity into decrepitude; the redemption offered by modernism itself and indeed by Bergsonian vitalism was to revivify the doctrine.
For Jane Bennett, by contrast, new vitalism may have many of the fundamental qualities of life, but the solidarities of new vitalism are entangled in and across assemblages without distinction between life and nonlife.
Mechanism, vitalism and organicism in late nineteenth and twentieth-century biology: the importance of historical context.