Maintaining a Vitalistic Perspective in Chiropractic in the Postmodern Era

The Chiro.Org Blog

SOURCE:   J Chiropractic Humanities 2005; 12: 2-7

By Cheryl Hawk, DC, PhD, CHES

Professor and Director of Clinical Research
at Logan College of Chiropractic

Objectives: To discuss concepts of postmodernism with respect to the opposing worldviews of vitalism and mechanism, and to present an argument for a viable role for vitalism in chiropractic philosophy and research.

Discussion: Vitalism is only problematic if we begin with the assumption that a mechanist worldview or paradigm is the correct way to explain the world. In postmodern thought, a multiplicity of worldviews may coexist. One view is no more valid or correct than another and these divergent views are judged best by their utility under various circumstances. Exploring clinical practices and methodologies, such as whole systems research, arising from a vitalistic perspective could lead to innovations in both patient care and research, if pursued with flexible non-dogmatic thinking.

Conclusion: Vitalism, approached in a responsible and intelligent manner, may afford the chiropractic profession opportunities to further improve patient care and make contributions to new knowledge.


The 2003, the World Federation of Chiropractic conference convened a panel to address this question: “Is vitalism a strong foundation or quicksand for the chiropractic profession?” As one of the panelists, in order to address what I believed this question was really asking, it was necessary to first deconstruct the question, that is, to examine its underlying assumption. [1]

This underlying assumption is that a mechanist worldview or paradigm is the correct way to explain the world. Based on this assumption, anything that does not fit this worldview would be a potential threat to our profession’s credibility and, therefore, must be modified to fit this view or jettisoned. Vitalism, which entails a different way of perceiving the world, poses such a threat.

This assumption must be examined rather than simply accepted. Only then will it be possible to make a conscious choice of which worldview we want to function within and then thoughtfully and responsibly adhere to the principles of that worldview.


Modernism and Postmodernism

Modernism, which has shaped Western thought since the late 18th century, [2] “favors a single way of explaining the world.” Postmodernist thought, which has emerged in the latter half of the 20th century, accepts diversity in values and beliefs, recognizing that all worldviews are based not on absolute reality but on their own set of a priori assumptions. [3]

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