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Hylozoism, from the Greek [symbol omitted]λη meaning matter, and ζωή meaning life, is the doctrine according to which all matter is animated, either in itself or as participating in the action of a superior principle, usually the world soul (anima mundi ).

Historical Origins. The term appears for the first time in the works of Ralph Cudworth (161788), one of the cambridge platonists. Taken in its strict sense, it indicates a conception of matter that is different both from animism, the imaginary personification of nature in primitive races, and panpsychism, the theory that matter is not only alive but possesses some form of sensation or consciousness. This distinction is not clear in the early Greek philosophers, the first hylozoists recorded in history. Thales, for example, is reported by Aristotle as holding that water is the primary substrate (Meta. 983b 21), and that "all things are full of gods" (Anim. 411a 8). For Anaximander the universal material cause and animating principle is an infinite and indeterminate substance; while for Anaximenes it is air; and for Heraclitus it is fire.

Hylozoism acquires its distinct traits from Strato of Lampsacus, successor of Theophrastus as the head of the peripatetic school at Athens. While rejecting the mechanistic theory of the atomists, Strato retains their materialistic monism. He reduces all reality to matter and all vital and psychical activities to motion, thus making life a property of matter. Hylozoism is also the characteristic feature of the Stoic doctrine that the entire universe forms a unitary and living whole, in which all things are the determinate forms assumed by a divine primitive power. This power is described either as soul, mind, and reason, or as fire, ether, and pneuma, but in all cases it appears to be something material.

The Stoic concept of a world soul was taken over by the Neoplatonists and adapted to their system. For ploti nus and his followers the world soul is a spiritual principle emanating from the One, the supreme transcendent Being, through Intellect or Nous. Matter proceeds from the One inasmuch as it becomes a factor in the constitution of the phenomenal world, but in itself it forms the lowest level of being. As the principle of imperfection, limitation, and evil, it is like darkness compared to light; it is the antithesis of the One. Thus it is only in a qualified sense that Plotinus and the Neoplatonists can be called hylozoists.

Renaissance and Modern Times. The notion of an animated world gained wide acceptance among Renaissance philosophers, although it is difficult in specific cases to tell a hylozoist from a panpsychist. Paracelsus (14931541) conceived the world as animated by an immanent but unconscious vital principle, the Archeus. His disciple, J. B. van Helmont (15771644), called this principle aura vitalis and made it responsible for the formation of each individual organism and its different parts. Geronimo Cardano (150176) shared the belief in universal animation through the world soul, as did Giordano bruno after him. A somewhat different hylozoist theory was advanced by the Cambridge Platonists, Ralph Cudworth and Henry More, through their doctrine of "plastic nature," an incorporeal but unconscious substance that acts like an instrument of God in the production of natural events. The plastic nature exercises its power over matter by organizing it and directing all its motions and activities. Like an inferior soul, it does for nature as a whole roughly what the soul of a plant does for a plant.

Traces of hylozoism can be found in Spinoza's conception of reality, as well as in Leibniz's theory of monads. However it is with a group of 18th-century encyclopedists, such as D. Diderot, P. J. G. Cabanis, and J. B. R. Robinet, that hylozoism comes again into prominence. Their dynamic-materialistic view of the world is in many respects similar to that of Strato. This same attitude toward the problem of matter and life can be observed in 19th-century philosophers who supported evolutionism. If matter is the only reality, as E. H. Haeckel maintained, and life comes from matter, then life must be contained virtually in matter as one of its essential properties. Hylozoism becomes for Haeckel a necessary postulate of his system.

Not all evolutionists would commit themselves to Haeckel's thoroughly materialistic view. Some, like B. spinoza, modified the very concept of matter and described both matter and mind as two distinct aspects of one and the same reality. For Herbert spencer (18201903) this reality is unknowable and different from matter and mind; for Gustav Fechner, Rudolph lotze, and William Wundt the reality is matter and mind, these two latter being nothing but its outer and its inner sides. In both views we are faced with a psychophysical parallelism that closely resembles panpsychism. The recent evolutionary theories of H. bergson and P. teilhard de chardin are also preeminently of a panpsychic nature.

Evaluation. Hylozoism fails to recognize the characteristic properties that distinguish living beings from brute matter. The differences between the two orders of being are so fundamental, especially when highly developed organisms are considered, that to confuse one with the other is to disregard completely the observational and experimental methods professed by scientists. To consider life derived from brute matter in virtue of some hidden and mysterious potentialities, without the action of an extrinsic agent, is also to violate the fundamental principle that no being can be the adequate cause of its own transition from potentiality to actuality. A being would give to itself what it does not have, or, which is equally contradictory, it would be in act and potency at one and the same time and in the same respect (see potency and act; efficient causality). Hylozoism has, therefore, the support of neither science nor philosophy.

See Also: life; matter; mechanism, biological.

Bibliography: a. lalande, Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie (8th ed., rev. and enl. Paris 1960). r. eisler, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe, 3 v. (4th ed. Berlin 192730) 1:641642. g. martano, Enciclopedia filosofica (Venice-Rome) 2:125760. j. burnet, Early Greek Philosophy (4th ed. New York 1957). j. carles, Les Origines de la vie (Paris 1950). g. matisse, A la Source des phénomènes vitaux (Paris 1951). j. m. de corral, El Problema de las causas de la vida y las concepciones del mundo (Madrid 1956).

[b. m. bonansea]