The ancient principle of vitalism consists in the idea that the difference between living and non-living things is a kind of non-material life force . As the natural philosophers of the last centuries became more sophisticated, they worked with this assumption and tried to define it scientifically . Vitalism was once the center of pre-scientific ideas about biology , but then with the passage of time it was abandoned for the benefit of the discipline.


What is vitalism?

Vitalism is a doctrine of philosophy that is characterized by affirming and exalting life and its consequences. They see life as the main reality and they strive to understand it but they do not have uniformity due to the differences in how they conceive life.

  • What is vitalism?
  • History
  • features
  • Vitalism in biology
  • Vitalism in chemistry
  • Representatives
  • Plays
  • Examples

What is vitalism?

The theory of the vitalists consists in saying that living organisms are fundamentally different from entities that do not have life because they contain some element that is not of a physical nature or because they are governed by different principles from things that are inanimate . In its simplest form, vitalism tells and affirms that entities that have life contain some kind of fluid , or a “spirit” that distinguishes them. In some of the most sophisticated forms, the vital spirit becomes a substance that infuses bodies and that is in charge of giving them life.; in this way vitalism becomes the view that there is a distinctive organization among living things.



The history of vitalism arises from the hand of a series of thinkers whose main characteristic was to be guided by a kind of irrationalism , which arose as a reaction to the different socialist revolutionary movements that emerged during the second half of the 19th century.

Vitalism is considered to be as old as the human being and that the primordial perspectives of the entire world speak of the existence of a power , force or energy that surrounds the creation and its elements . All these perspectives had different names and characteristics called soul, vital impulse, arche, physis, energy body, vital force, dominant force and entelechy.


The main characteristics of vitalism were the following:

  • He understood reality as a process.
  • He claimed that freedom was the essence of man.
  • He abandoned the traditional concept of reason.
  • It had two main manifestations, one era d scientific character created against the materialistic mechanism, the second was a philosophical manifestation or philosophy of life.

Vitalism in biology

In the area of biology , vitalism was known as a theory that was born in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries under the name of animism, of which Georg Ernst Stahl, a physician, was the founder.

In the area of ​​biology, vitalism said that organisms had a vital spirit . It was a science that was in charge of defending that the different situations that occurred within the organism were caused due to the action of a set of vital forces that were characteristic of living beings, and that for this reason these situations did not occur exclusively by the action of the physical-chemical forces of matter.

Vitalism in chemistry

After understanding the principles of combustion , he began the debate on vitalism and the distinction between organic and inorganic matter . This theory indicated that organic matter could only be produced by living beings , imputing this fact to an inherent vis vitalis . This debate revolutionized after Friedrich Wöhler accidentally discovered how urea could be synthesized from ammonium cyanate, thus demonstrating that organic matter could be created chemically .


The main representatives of vitalism were:

Wilhelm Dilthey

German philosopher who thought that enlightened reason had the character of timeless , general and abstract ; it was based on the natural sciences , and knew only the repetitive and constant . It disagrees between nature and culture, between genesis and structure, and between natural sciences and spiritual sciences. He did not agree with the opposition between genesis and structure .

Friedrich Nietzsche

For this philosopher, life has a biological-cultural meaning , it is a natural impulse and it is experience. His critical activity is summarized in three points: criticism of morality , metaphysics , and positive sciences.

Henri Bergson

Jewish-French philosopher who thought that life is a universal vital impulse that fights against matter because the former wants progress and the latter retards it. The main objective of philosophy is to capture reality and life .

José Ortega y Gasset

For the Spanish philosopher, life is handled in two senses: in the first stage the biological sense predominates , while in the second the biographical-historical one predominates . He spoke of seven categories to refer to human life:


Some of the works written on vitalism are the following:

  • The death of God
  • Thus spoke Zaratrustra
  • Beyond Good and Evil
  • Ecco Homme
  • The tragedy’s origin
  • The Antichrist
  • Genealogy of Moral


Some examples of vitalism can be observed in the following aspects:

  • The systems of vital impulse that are made up of components that are in turn living things.
  • Systems formed as a consequence of the activity of groups of individuals who have a particular purpose.
  • Systems that have their own dynamics and that derive from partial qualities of individuals.
  • company , job or medium-term objective that various beings set themselves, will have the same evolutionary dynamics as living beings.

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