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Bonaparte, M. (1960). Vitalism and Psychosomatics. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 41:438-443.

(1960). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 41:438-443

Vitalism and Psychosomatics

Marie Bonaparte

It might seem foolhardy for one who is, as medical men say, only a psycho-analyst, to attempt to deal with a problem so profound and complex as the relationship between present-day psychosomatics and the age-old animistic vitalism. Yet even those who are purely and simply philosophers, without any clinical experience, have presumed to discuss the mystery of life. For we have on the one hand the inorganic world, governed by the strict laws of mechanics, physics and chemistry; on the other the world of organic life, ranging from the smallest virus to man. Some have tried to derive the organic from the inorganic, by the simple play of the laws and determinism that govern the latter. Others, more numerous, are impressed by the way in which life appears to leap from the womb of matter, and try to find to add to life some additional quality, a quality which has been designated by different thinkers at different epochs by variants of the term 'vital energy'. Even in classical Greece there was, in philosophy, the materialist, atomistic school of Democritus, as opposed to the dynamic school of Heraclitus. Similarly, in medicine, there was the organicist school of Cnidos facing, on the peninsula opposite the island of Cos, the mainly vitalist school of Hippocrates (3).

The great religious centuries of the Middle Ages needed the hypothesis of a soul animating the body. God himself was surely the first vitalist, or rather animist when, according to Genesis, he breathed his creative spirit into the animals, giving man in particular his anima.

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