Vitalism Now – A Problematic

Greco, Monica. 2021. Vitalism Now – A Problematic. Theory, Culture & Society, 38(2), pp. 47-69. ISSN 0263-2764 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This paper considers whether and how ‘vitalism’ might be considered relevant as a concept today; whether its relevance should be expressed in terms of disciplinary demarcations between the life sciences and the natural sciences; and whether there is a fundamental incompatibility between a 'vitalism of process' and a 'vitalism as pathos' (Osborne, 2016). I argue that the relevance of vitalism as an epistemological and ontological problem concerning the categorical distinction between living and non-living beings must be contextualised historically, and referred exclusively to the epistemic horizon defined by classical physics. In contrast to this, drawing on the philosophies of Canguilhem, Whitehead, and Atlan, I propose an appreciation of the contemporary relevance of vitalism premised on the pathic and indeterminate character of nature as a whole. From this perspective vitalism expresses a politically significant ethos concerning the relationship between life, knowledge, problems and their solutions.

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Canguilhem, life, pathos, problematology, process, vitalism, Whitehead

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3 April 2019Accepted
15 July 2019Published Online
March 2021Published

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Date Deposited:

11 Apr 2019 14:56

Last Modified:

01 Mar 2022 04:04

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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