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Vitalism as Pathos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-205
Number of pages21
Issue number2
Early online date25 Feb 2016
DateAccepted/In press - 10 Feb 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 25 Feb 2016
DatePublished (current) - Aug 2016


This paper addresses the remarkable longevity (in spite of numerous ‘refutations’) of the idea of vitalism in the biological sciences and beyond. If there is to be a renewed vitalism today, however, we need to ask – on what kind of original conception of life should it be based? This paper argues that recent invocations of a generalized, processual variety of vitalism in the social sciences and humanities above all, however exciting in their scope, miss much of the basic originality – and interest – of the vitalist perspective itself. The paper argues that any renewed spirit of vitalism in the contemporary era would have to base itself on the normativity of the living organism rather than on any generalized conceptions of process or becoming. In the terms of the paper, such a vitalism would have to be concrete and ‘disciplinary’ rather than processual or generalized. Such a vitalism would also need to accommodate, crucially, the pathic aspects of life – pathology, sickness, error; in short everything that makes us, as living beings, potentially weak, without power, at a loss. Sources for such a pathic vitalism might be found above all in the work of Georges Canguilhem – and Friedrich Nietzsche – rather than primarily in Bergson, Whitehead or Deleuze.

    Research areas

  • Vitalism, Mechanism, Canguilhem, von Uexküll, Nietzsche

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