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THE EVOLUTION AND CLASSIFICATION OF PHILOSOPHICAL LIFE THEORIES A N Y classification, and especially one of theories, is always more x V or less artificial. The various items classified can easily be distorted. As for theories, it is often a hard task to label them and place them under the caption of some common name, since many of them have an eclectic character at least in part. Still, an orderly study of a subject requires some sort of classification of its treat­ ments in accordance with what might be called a scholastic adage: qui bene distinguit, bene docet. The distinction and consequently the classification of biological theories has been attempted according to various criteria, each of which is valuable, of course, from its proper standpoint. One may simply sum them up on a historical basis, but then the enumeration must needs be crossed by the application of other criteria. One may classify them on the basis of their so-called scientific or outspoken philosophical character; but then it is difficult to trace the borderline, because general scientific theories in biology prac­ tically always contain some philosophical implications or, at least, imperceptibly slip into philosophical territory. Some have classified life theories according to their adherence to general philosophical systems, such as Monism, Pluralism (Dual­ ism), Materialism, and Idealism.1 This kind of procedure is very useful but sometimes too general. A quite common classification is that which is based on the question, whether or not there is an essential difference between animate and inanimate bodies. The theories which give an affirma­ tive answer are called vitalistic, those which answer in the negative, mechanistic. Others base their classification on the answers to the question: must a living organism be regarded as a plurality, i. e., as a sum of uncorrelated, independent entities, or as a unity, i. e., as an in­ tegrated whole? From this standpoint is made the distinction be­ tween Atomism or, in biological terms, Micromerism on the one 1. E. g., Schwertschlager, Phil, der Natur, II, pp. 121 el seq. 113 114 FRANCISCAN STUDIES hand and Holism on the other. This kind of classification is made quite often at present in view of many recent life theories; but it should be made also in view of very old and ancient theories, such as the Aristotelian-scholastic conception of life. The last two criteria, if taken independently of each other, cover only the dichotomy of one aspect of the life problem. To solve this problem satisfactorily in its entirety, they should be taken together; and, in fact, they supplement each other, as we shall see presently. We shall, therefore, apply both criteria at the same time; and to show the evolution of life theories, we shall also follow the his­ torical lines. In regard to the latter, we shall commence with the more modern which begin around Descartes’ time, and only en passant shall we mention some older theories. The theory which we hold to be the right one is old and new at the same time, because it is that of the philosophia perenn'ts: the Aristotelian-scholastic theory, which may be called vitalistic substantialism or animistic hylomorphism. To give a very brief sum­ mary, this system holds that an organism is to be conceived — on account of its activity and finality — as a natural body ( corpus naturale ), i.e., as a body which is not just an aggregate of manifold parts, such as cells, atoms, electrons, etc., acting more or less autonomically , but a body whose parts are essentially united into an organized whole or substance. This unity, empirically established, requires in every natural body — either organic or inorganic — two co-principles, matter and form, making up together one substance; the form being the specific principle, the source of its activity and the principle of its unity. Furthermore, the observation of the functions of living natural bodies proves that their formal principle must be of an order essen­ tially different from that of the form of inorganic natural bodies, and consequently that there exists an essential difference between these two kinds of natural bodies. The formal principle of substan­ tiality and unity is at the same time the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 113-142
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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