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Antecedents to Chiropractic Philosophy. Biological Constructs. Biological Constructs. To describe the essential nature of life/living things; i.e. “what is life?” Derived from more basic metaphysical beliefs/doctrines ( materialism, idealism, dualism ). Biological Constructs.

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Antecedents to Chiropractic Philosophy

Biological Constructs


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Biological Constructs

  • To describe the essential nature of life/living things; i.e. “what is life?”

  • Derived from more basic metaphysical beliefs/doctrines (materialism, idealism, dualism)


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Biological Constructs

  • Two fundamental doctrines:

    1. Mechanism/atomism

    2. Vitalism


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Mechanism/atomism(re: What is life?)

  • Life can be completely explained by actions of physical, chemical, and electrical forces

  • Derived from materialism and/or scientific exclusionism

  • A reaction to antiscientific theological doctrines


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Mechanism/atomism(re: What is life?)

  • The central dogma of biology: Life is complex carbon-based chemistry; DNA ultimately codes for “life” processes

  • There is no immaterial component; “only matter, never mind”

  • A living thing is exhaustively composed of inanimate parts; the “whole is equal to the sum of its parts”


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Mechanism/atomism(re: What is life?)

  • In its extreme form, could be considered as an extension of the metaphysical doctrine of materialism (“only matter, never mind”)


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Vitalism(re: What is life?)

  • Life and its functions depend on a “vital influence” which is not physical in nature

  • Derives from dualism

  • Not necessarily a theological doctrine

  • life= chemistry “animated” by spirit

  • Is an inclusive doctrine


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Vitalismhas two versions, or interpretations:

  • Extreme vitalism (aka “naïve ” vitalism)

  • Moderate vitalism (aka “critical” vitalism)


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Extreme (“naïve”) Vitalism:

  • The presence in living systems of a substantial entity that imparts to the system powers possessed by no inanimate body (i.e..an extension of substance dualism)

  • Matter evolves, then spirit animates it- “ghost in the machine”

  • Lends itself to theological interpretation


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Extreme (“naïve”) Vitalism:

  • Is “popular” doctrine, reinforced by common sense, everyday language, etc…

    “a lifeless corpse”

    “he lost his life”

    a cat’s “nine lives”

    “life in a test tube”

    Frankenstein’s monster


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Extreme (“naïve”) Vitalism:

  • Is least popular theory with biologists today


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Moderate Vitalism: (also termed “critical” vitalism)

  • The immaterial expression (mind) co-evolves with the physical structure; essentially an extension of “property” dualism

  • Vital forces always a part of, never apart from, the process of living thing; (“life in matter inseparably”- V.V. Strang); i.e.. Dualistic interactionism


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Moderate Vitalism: (also termed “critical” vitalism)

  • Hans Driesch: life is an autonomous, mind-like, non-spatial entity that exercises control over organic processes

  • Paralleled in chiropractic philosophy: major premise and triune of life

  • Universal and Innate intelligence are chiropractic’s “untestable” metaphors for this concept


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Is there a “moderate” mechanism”? (property dualism applied to the life question)

  • Possibly equated with contemporary “organismic” biology

  • Suggests that “pure” or “extreme” mechanism is outmoded

  • organicism, like vitalism, opposes the reductin of biology to physics and chemistry

  • The whole is more than the sum of its parts


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Is there a “moderate” mechanism”? (property dualism applied to the life question)

  • “the presence in living systems of emergent properties, contingent upon the organization of inanimate parts, but not reducible to them”

  • Life is epiphenomenal, or an emergent property of the matter

  • the additional “ingredient” is understanding of the organizing relationships of the living “system”


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Is there a “moderate” mechanism”? (property dualism applied to the life question)

  • No separate, non-physical entity is required; life is self-organizing and self-maintaining (autopoietic)

  • Neither purely mechanistic nor purely vitalistic


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In review: applied to the life question)

  • How do we answer the question: “What is life?”

  • Two major doctrines:

    1) mechanism

    “extreme” and “moderate”

    2) vitalism

    “extreme” (“naïve”) and “moderate” (“critical”)

  • The “moderate” versions of each are not very different from each other


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“The currently emerging theory of living systems has finally overcome the debate between mechanism and Teleology. (“purposeful nature” )…it views living nature as mindful and intelligent without the need to assume any overall design or purpose.”

Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life, p.107


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“The life process consists of all activities involved in the continued embodiment of the system’s (autopoietic) pattern of organization in a physical (dissipative) structure.”

Capra, The Web of Life, p. 267


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“The pattern of life is a network pattern capable of self-organization.”

Capra, The Web of Life, p. 83


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“Self organization is the spontaneous emergence of new structures and forms of behavior in open systems far from equilibrium, characterized by internal feedback loops and described mathematically by non-linear equations.”

Capra, The Web of Life, p. 85


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“With respect to invulnerability to criticism, vitalism and its most plausible alternatives [i.e., mechanism] are in exactly the same position.”

Morton Beckner


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What does this mean to us? and its most plausible alternatives [i.e., mechanism] are in exactly the same position.”

  • Universal and innate intelligence are metaphors for the self-forming (autopoietic) and self-organizing properties of living things consistent with the present-day tenets of organismic biology- essentially an extension of “critical vitalism”

  • Extreme “mechanism”- the concept that life is reducible to complex carbon-based chemistry is as dogmatic and unproven as the animating life-force view of “naïve” vitalism


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Very Important!: and its most plausible alternatives [i.e., mechanism] are in exactly the same position.”

  • A “vitalistic” approach does not necessarily require the assumption of beliefs consistent with a theistic teleology (it is not religion!)

  • however, it does accommodate such beliefs


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“With respect to invulnerability to criticism, vitalism and its most plausible alternatives [i.e., mechanism] are in exactly the same position.”

Morton Beckner



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