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Hylozoism is the philosophical doctrine that all material things possess life. Some of the ancient Greek philosophers taught a version of hylozoism. Thales, Anaximenes, and Heraklitus all taught that there is a form of life in all material objects, and the Stoics believed that a world soul informed all things in the world. It is important to note that these philosophies did not necessarily hold that material objects had separate life or identity, necessarily, but only that they had life, either as part of an overriding entity or as living but insensible entities.

In the Renaissance, Bernardino Telesio and Giordano Bruno revived the doctrine of hylozoism. The latter, for example, held a form of Christian pantheism. God is the source, cause, medium, and end of all things, and therefore all things are participatory in the ongoing Godhead. Bruno's ideas were so radical that he was entirely rejected by the Roman Catholic Church and was, in fact, burned at the stake. Telesio, on the other hand, began from an Aristotelian basis and, through radical empiricism, came to believe that a living force was what informed all matter. Instead of the intellectual universals of Aristotle, he believed that life generated form.

In England, some of the Cambridge Platonists approached hylozoism as well. Henry More and Ralph Cudworth both, through their reconciliation of Platonic idealism with Christian doctrines of deific generation, came to see the divine lifeforce as the informing principle in the world. Thus, like Bruno, but not nearly to the extreme, they saw God's generative impulse as giving life to all things that exist.

Spinoza's idealism also tends toward hylozoism. Although he specifically rejects identity in inorganic matter, he, like the Cambridge Platonists, sees a life force or living force within, as well as beyond, all matter. Martin Buber, too, takes an approach that is quasi-hylozoic. By maintaining that the essence of things is identifiable and separate, although not pre-existing, he can see a soul within each thing.

In the 19th century, Ernst Heinrich Haeckel developed a materialist form of hylozoism. In his Die Welträtsel of 1899 (The Riddle of the Universe 1901), he upheld a unity of organic and inorganic nature and derived all actions of both types of matter from natural causes and laws. Thus, his form of hylozoism reverses the usual course by maintaining that living and non-living things are, essentially, the same and by erasing the distinction between the two and stipulating that they behave by a single set of laws.

See also

  • Animism
  • Panpsychism
  • Pantheism

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