This essay examines some aspects of the early history of the vitalism/mechanism controversies
by examining the work of Nehemiah Grew (1641–1712) in relation to that of Henry More
(1614–87), Francis Glisson (1599–1677) and the more mechanistically inclined members
of the Royal Society. I compliment and critically comment on John Henry's exploration of
active principles in pre-Newtonian mechanist thought. The postulation of ‘active matter’
can be seen as an important support for the new experimental philosophy, but it has theological
drawbacks, allowing for a self-sufficient nature relatively independent of God. Grew resists
this view and, like Henry More, advocates the need for a vital principle to direct material
nature towards its ends. I illustrate the connection Grew sees between teleology and vitalism
and the paper closes with Pierre Bayle's reaction to Grew's attempt to support his
religious commitments by appeal to vital principles.
So many Arts, hath the Divine Wisdom put together; only
for the hull and tackle, of a sensible and Thinking creature.
Nehemiah Grew, Cosmologia