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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 ?
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.
19) This critical confusion results from Darwin's negotiations of mechanism and vitalism in his poetry and prose, exemplifying what Peter Hans Reill terms "Enlightenment vitalism," comprising "the imperative to mediate between extremes in which harmony functioned as its overriding metaphor.
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 decades he has been one of the leading proponents of emergence, a philosophical perspective that lies between strong reductionism on the one hand and vitalism on the other.
Mechanism, vitalism and organicism in late nineteenth and twentieth-century biology: the importance of historical context.
I deliberately stress the word revitalize to reassert the view that underpinned Marx's own doctoral dissertation on Epicurean vitalism and dissipate commonly held views of historical materialism as an irredeemably deterministic and anthropocentric framework (see Burns, 2000; Foster, 2000, chapter 4).
Despite his attacking vitalism as a kind of pantheism and denial of divine power, the influence exerted by alchemy, indeed, led him to believe in the possibility of contact with supernatural agents such as the presence of supernatural entities in the work of witches and magicians.
DD: Vitalism is a term that defines you in more than one way.
One of the strengths of Pollen's book is that it looks for the first time in detail at Hargrave's mysticism as detailed in his Lodge of Instruction, derived from an eclectic mix of sources including Theosophy, Aleister Crowley, Bergson's vitalism, the rituals of rebirth in The Golden Bough, and English folklore.
The writer has often been associated with "pagan" vitalism, Epicureanism, and even pantheism, yet the spiritual foundation of his work is Christianity or, to be more precise, Catholicism.
Out of Character: Modernism, Vitalism, Psychic Life, by Omri Moses.
But the philosophical analysis that concludes that we must choose between materialism and some form of vitalism is based on a limited understanding of the options.