Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > From Physical Causes to Organisms of Meaning > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

The false specter of vitalism (3)

The scientist observes meanings at play in organisms, and appeals to them in biological explanation. Anyone who construes this appeal as conjuring unacceptable vital forces needs not only to torch almost the entire biological literature, reconstructing it upon some new and as yet unknown basis; he also puts himself in an untenable position regarding the human being. For at least some of what we do, we do because we consciously think and intend it. If invoking this because of reason — this play of meaning and idea — in the explanation of human behavior is to rely on vital forces, then virtually everyone (in daily life, if not within their cocoon of theory) is a vitalist. If, on the other hand, we grant meaning to the human being without trying to make this meaning an expression of vital forces, then we can hardly voice the charge of “vitalism” when we observe meaningful activity in less conscious forms — for example, in the activity of cells and lower organisms.

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