ANTIMECHANICISM (Greek ’αντι- [anti]—against, in comparison with something; μηχανη [mechane]—a mechanical device, machine)—a philosophical position that is a form of antireductionism and which presents a critque of mechanicism. Current discussions on mechanicism are on a philosophical level, metascientific level (the philosophy of natural science), and the level of world-view. Controversies bring added ambiguity to the term “mechanicism” and for this reason the term is associated with different meanings in different contexts. The shortcomings of the mechanistic explanation of the world started to be seen in particular at the end of the nineteenth century, and scientific discoveries of the twentieth century further undermined mechanicism.
In classical philosophy there is a distinction between the conception of the inorganic world and that of the organic world. In the conception of the inorganic world there are difficulties that mechanics cannot resolve. Not all the changes in nature considered by the natural science are accidental but some are substantial. Thus not all wholes composed of parts are accidental aggregates. There are essential differences between a chemical compound and a chemical mixture. Unlike mixtures, chemical compounds have the property of stability. External circumstances have an influence on the formation of a compound but do not change the stable model and structure of the compound. Mechanicism does not have adequate criteria for differentiating between a chemical compound and a mixture nor does it explain the distinct differences of species of bodies and of the substantial changes that lead to the existence of new bodies.
In the philosophy of organic nature the opposition between promechanicism and antimechanicism depends on the answers to two questions. In mechanicism, it is thought that the features of organisms can be explained on the basis of properties of inorganic systems. Likewise, it is thought that biological laws can be entirely deduced from the laws of chemistry and physics. In antimechanicism both approaches are thought to be impossible. The properties of organisms and the laws of biological systems are not merely the result of features and laws at the physical and chemical level. There is also room for a certain additional element, something new, the nature of which is variously conceived in different philosophical schools. In scholasticism, hylemorphism holds that this element is the soul or the substantial form of the organism (corpus vivens), and the organism differs essentially from an inorganic system (corpus inanimatum). In neovitalism, the novelty of this element is seen in a dynamic object attached to a material component and is called the dominant or vital power, entelechy or psyche. In the mode of causal explanation, such factors are not physically reproducible causes.
Using the terminology of classical philosophy, we may say that the features of organisms are contained potentially and not actually in inorganic matter. Biological systems are not aggregates of chemical substances but new substances. The potential properties of organisms latent in matter are actualized when specific conditions are met. God is the Creator of the vital properties latent in matter. Some twentieth-century philosophers who held this doctrine from a position of Thomism were J. Maritain, A. Gemelli, F. Grégoire, and in Poland, B. Rutkiewicz.
Ecological philosophy is also antimechanistic. It follows Kuhn’s idea of scientific paradigms and criticizes the paradigm of Cartesian and Newtonian science. It criticizes a model of science called mechanistic, reductive, and analytic. The theories formulated in this paradigm of science resulted in classical mechanics, the theory of evolution, sociobiology, and psychoanalysis. Ecological philosophy holds that our difficulty with symbiotic balance is the result of a shift in accent from the contemplative intellect to the manipulative intellect, that is, the intellect as formed by modern science and directed to the management of things where man confronts nature as a whole not only with thought but with activity, the scope of which cannot be reconciled with the functioning of the whole. From the perspective of ecological philosophy, the mechanistic cosmology of Newton and Descartes has been responsible for the negative influence of philosophy on culture. That mechanistic cosmology implies a model of the world as a machine, a dualism of matter and spirit, determinism, and ontological reductionism. Mechanicism is a type of anti-ecological ontology and in this respect it is opposed to organicism. Ecological philosophy prefers holistic and systemic approaches.
In the methodology of natural science there is room for a confrontation between mechanicism and the teleological explanation of actions.
J. Mittelstrass, Das Wirken der Natur. Materialen zur Geschichte des Naturbegriffs, in: Naturverständnis und Naturbeherrschung, Mn 1980, 36–69; L. Wciórka, Filozofia przyroda [Philosophy of nature], Pz 1993; H. Jonas, Zasada odpowiedzialności. Etyka dla cywilizacji technologicznej [Principle of responsibility. Ethics for technological civilization], Kr. 1996.