From substantival to functional vitalism and beyond, or from Stahlian animas to Canguilhemian attitudes

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Wolfe, Charles T.
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I distinguish between what I call ‘substantival’ and ‘functional’ forms of vitalism in the eighteenth century. Substantival vitalism presupposes the existence of something like a (substantive) vital force which either plays a causal role in the natural world as studied by scientific means, or remains a kind of hovering, extra-causal entity. Functional vitalism tends to operate ‘post facto’, from the existence of living bodies to the desire to find explanatory models that will do justice to their uniquely ‘vital’ properties in a way that fully mechanistic (Cartesian, Boerhaavian etc.) models cannot. I discuss some representative figures of the Montpellier school (Bordeu, Ménuret, Fouquet) as being functional rather than substantival vitalists. Time allowing, I will make an additional point regarding the reprisal of vitalism(s) in ‘late modernity’, as some call it; from Hans Driesch to Georges Canguilhem. I suggest that in addition to the substantival and functional varieties, we then encounter a third species of vitalism, which I term ‘attitudinal’, as it argues for vitalism as a kind of attitude.