Throughout history philosophers have posited souls, vital spirits
and other active principles in living beings in order to explain
their differences from non-living beings. With the arrival of
genetics and evolutionary biology, however, it now seems possible
to account for these differences without assuming such principles.
Living beings are henceforth to be understood mechanically, as
products of self-replicating microscopic objects and selective
environmental conditions, rather than pneumatically, in terms of
active principles. It is very remarkable, therefore, that physics
has since abandoned the mechanical model of explanation, which it
gave to biology, and returned to the pneumatical model, applying it
not merely to living beings but to matter quite generally. The
conceptual origins and philosophical significance of this
remarkable development are explored in the present work. Part One
examines the crucial role played by field theory in the decline of
mechanism in physics and its replacement by pneumatism. Part Two
discusses the importance of this development for metaphysics and
the theory of human nature.
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