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Hahnemann’s Vital Force – What Are the Implications?

Homeopath and author Richard Pitcairn, discusses philosophic and medical  implications of Hahnemann’s concept of the vital force.

The Question in Homeopathy

When one first starts to work with homeopathy, it is with the idea that this is another method that can be used, one of many other alternatives. With time, however, and seeing some remarkable responses, we come to a junction in the road. One turn is to take homeopathy more seriously as an effective method, that there is something about homeopathy that is unique.

The other road turn is the position that it can be useful at times, when other methods don’t work, but the focus stays on what was learned before. Which fork to take is an important decision yet one that each person must make for themselves.

If the turn is in the direction of taking homeopathy more seriously, there is more study, more use of, more commitment to it. It can lead to very satisfying results as we know, however, it can also arrive, further down the road, to some interesting questions.

A question can take the form of “If homeopathy really does work this way, and is not explainable by the usual way of thinking, is Hahnemann’s teaching really correct?” Going into what Hahnemann says, and taking it seriously, is quite a departure from how most of us were trained. For example, in this aphorism he describes what we are.

  • #9 In the healthy human state, the spirit-like life force (autocracy) that enlivens the material organism as dynamis, governs without restriction and keeps all parts of the organism in admirable, harmonious, vital operation, as regards both feelings and functions, so that our indwelling, rational spirit can freely avail itself of this living, healthy instrument for the higher purposes of our existence.

This is radical, is it not? He is suggesting that there is a non-physical energy or power that is what runs the physical body. Most people these days talk of the body as being self-existent, and having its own intelligence. They will say “my body told me this was not a good food for me to eat.” Hahnemann says quite the opposite, that the body can do nothing on its own, that it is entirely a receptive mechanism. See this next aphorism.

  • #10 The material organism, thought of without life force, is capable of no sensibility, no activity, no self-preservation. It derives all sensibility and produces its life functions solely by means of the immaterial wesen (the life principle, the life force) that enlivens the material organism in health and in disease.

Even more clear is the footnote to this aphorism.

Footnote 10:  Without life force, the material organism is dead and is only subject to the power of the physical external world. It decays and is again resolved into its chemical constituents.

This turns our thinking on its head. There is the common assumption that the physical body is primary and its existence, and that of the brain, is what actually brings about consciousness. Hahnemann’s model is the exact opposite.  You can see why homeopathy is rejected by many people.

Let us say it is not rejected but rather triggers an inquiry. If we have not been understanding our reality correctly, what does that mean? If we accept Hahnemann that it is not just that the body, itself, is an inactive “instrument” as he calls it, he actually calls it “living, healthy instrument”, but that the “spirit-like life force” is totally in charge, then we have a completely different view of reality.

He refers to the life force as an “autocracy”, the dictionary defining the word as “absolute power, totalitarianism, dictatorship, …”

As if this is not enough, he adds that this life force has this purpose so that “our indwelling, rational spirit can freely avail itself of this living, healthy instrument for the higher purposes of our existence.”


If we put this into our own words, Hahnemann is saying that what we are, as a being, is not a physical organism but a spiritual one. It is the spirit which is “rational” that which thinks, is conscious. The physical body is simply a tool that is used for a purpose that the spirit has in creating it to be used.

If we are to accept this as true, the implications are enormous. It means that all the ideas we accumulated through our education as to how the body operates are not accurate. Instead of saying that a condition has come about because the adrenal glands are secreting too much hormone and accepting this as the full explanation as to the cause, we now know that any such change is what the life force has brought about. The adrenals were just what the life force used.

 Why Is There Disease?

The next question would be why there are health problems. If the life force is an autocracy, completely in control, then why would it be affected is such a way that we experience disturbed health? In answer to this, we will note that Hahnemann says that disease is not physical. He calls it a “mistunement” of the life force.

Footnote 31:  When I call disease a tunement or mistunement of the human condition, I am far from wanting to give, thereby, a hyperphysical explanation about the inner nature of diseases generally, or of a single case of disease in particular. This expression is only meant to imply what diseases, as has been proven, are not and cannot be (physical). They are not mechanical or chemical alterations of the material substance of the organism; they are not dependent on material disease matter. They are solely spirit-like, dynamic mistunements of life.

This explains what he considers the disturbance to be but does not tell us why it happens. Why is the autocracy of the life force mistuned, altered from its usual pattern? He addresses it in aphorism 148.

  • #148 A natural disease is never to be regarded as some noxious matter situated somewhere inside or outside the person. Rather, natural disease is engendered by a spirit-like inimical potence that disturbs, as if by a kind of contagion, the spirit-like life principle that reigns, with its instinctual governance, in the entire organism. Like an evil spirit, it torments the life principle, forcing it to engender certain sufferings and disorders in the course of its life. These are known as symptoms or diseases.

The word “inimical” means something harmful or injurious. He is saying there exists, at the same level, the spiritual (non-physical), an influence that comes in contact with the life force of the person or animal, and has effect on it. Alarming as this sounds, it is important to know that Hahnemann also says these influences are not very powerful.

  • #31 The—partly psychical and partly physical—inimical potencies in life on earth (which we call disease malignities) do not possess an absolute power to morbidly mistune the human condition. We become diseased by them only when our organism is just exactly and sufficiently disposed and laid open to be assailed by the cause of disease that is present, and to be altered in its condition, mistuned and displaced into abnormal feelings and functions. Hence these inimical potences do not make everyone sick every time.

Hahnemann says these influences are not absolutely powerful, and this is what is really important here — “We become diseased by them only when our organism is just exactly and sufficiently disposed and laid open to be assailed by the cause of disease that is present…” In other words, we have to come to the position of being susceptible to them prior to the exposure to the inimical influence. We will look at that more as we go on.

The Action of the Remedy

Here, in the aphorism that precedes the one above, is described how a similar remedy can resolve this condition of the life force.

Aphorism §29

  1. Any disease (which is not strictly a surgical case) consists solely of a specific dynamic disease mistunement of our life force (life principle) in our feelings and functions.
  2. The life principle, which has been dynamically mistuned by the natural disease, is seized, during homeopathic cure, by the similar yet somewhat stronger artificial disease-affection which results from the application of the medicinal potence, selected exactly according to symptom similarity.
  3. The feeling of the natural (weaker) dynamic disease-affection is extinguished and disappears for the life principle and, from then on, no longer exists for the life principle which is occupied solely by the stronger artificial disease-affection.
  4. The artificial disease-affection soon plays itself out, leaving the patient free and recuperated. The dynamis, thus freed, can now continue life again, in health.

What I want to emphasize in this sentence is — “The feeling of the natural (weaker) dynamic disease affection is extinguished and disappears for the life principle and, from then on, no longer exists for the life principle.”

Let’s rephrase this by saying the experience of being affected by disease influence (inimical potence) is a “feeling.” The life force is in this state of mistunement because of “feeling” the presence of what is interpreted as harmful. The life force then responds to the feeling as a reaction to it.

Notice that when the similar remedy is used, it only removes the feeling of the disease influence which frees that individual from the problem. It does not go into the body, correct things, alter physiological processes, change functions. It only takes the “feeling place” of the original influence.

This, again, is showing that what causes disease is at the level of perception, therefore at the level of conscious spirit. It is not a physical happening. Yes, there are physical changes because of the life force mistunement, as the normal action of the life force is the maintenance of the physical condition, but these changes are the outcomes, the outer expression, of the disturbance, the effect, what Kent calls the “ultimates.”


Coming back to the question of susceptibility, we can say that to be susceptible requires that when one encounters, at the level of perception and feeling — which is a conscious process — the influence is seen as potentially harmful. If it were not seen that way, it would have no effect. Therefore, as Hahnemann says, in itself the inimical influence does not have absolute power to affect the individual.

When I say it is a conscious process I am not implying that it is conscious in the usual way we refer to as being conscious of something. It is happening outside of the usual awareness in what we call the subconscious or unconscious.

How can this be? Hahnemann says, in the Organon, that it is our spiritual being which is “rational” implying a condition of consciousness. He doesn’t use the word consciousness as likely it was not used much in his day as it is now. However, what he is describing to us when he says that the body is an instrument, only a receptive mechanism, is that consciousness does not reside there. Therefore, it will be at the level of conscious perception that the disease influence is perceived, which is the level of spirit.

You might say “Why could it not be just a reaction to a harmful influence, like sensing a pain? It could be like sitting on a tack — sudden pain and reaction.” A reasonable question but when you consider it, you can see that if one is not conscious there would be no sensing or reaction to pain.

Let us come back to the consideration of susceptibility. This is an important factor as we know, from observation, that not everyone is susceptible, even sometimes to toxic substances. My thinking about this is we must not limit to the sensing or perception, but include the interpretation of it as a conscious act. When we go in this direction we are coming up to placebo sitting at the side of the road.


My thoughts about placebo, as I went through my medical career. was that it was showing us that it was possible to imagine an improvement by taking something that had no effect on health. When we consider it as imaginary, it is dismissive, like it is a fantasy.

However, research into the phenomenon suggests otherwise. In fact, it strongly suggests that much of what we consider medical treatment is acting that way, that it is the action of our minds, the interpretation, that determines the outcome. Most people reject this idea but the studies that have been done are supportive of this understanding.

There is much research we could go into, but I will just give one good example from a study I went over in our meeting last  year, but would like to do it again, to emphasize the importance of this.

Study of Poison Ivy

A 1962 study was done in Japan with a group of children who were all extremely allergic to poison ivy. “Researchers rubbed one forearm of each child with a poison-ivy leaf but told them the leaf was harmless. As a control, they rubbed the child’s other forearm with a harmless leaf that they claimed was poison ivy. All the children developed a rash on the arm rubbed with the harmless leaf that was thought to be poison ivy.

And 11 of the 13 children developed no rash at all where the poison had actually touched them. This was an astounding finding; how could children who were highly allergic to poison ivy not get a rash when exposed to it? And how could they develop a rash from a totally benign leaf?

The new thought that the leaf wouldn’t hurt them overrode their memory and belief that they were allergic to it, rendering real poison ivy harmless. And the reverse was true in the second part of the experiment: A harmless leaf was made toxic by thought alone.  –   ”You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter, Joe Dispenza


This is a very relevant study. That it was done in children takes advantage of how readily they are influenced by what is told to them. This is their experience as they grow up and are conditioned. Adults can be influenced in this way, but tend to have more resistance as they have already formulated their view of reality.

Obviously, the life force of the child was sensing the energetic configuration of the poison ivy leaf, but how that was interpreted was determined by the thought held at the time. They are told “this leaf is harmless” while actually rubbing it on their arm. The other side of this, that they reacted to the harmless leaf, is another demonstration that how a “feeling experience” is interpreted depends on the content of the mind.

To Recapitulate

Let’s put this all together as an understandable perspective. Hahnemann teaches us that the dynamic responsible for physical experience starts from a non-physical dimension, that in essence we are spiritual beings. From this arises the configuration of an entity, “a living thing”, that is the experience of individuality.

We can think of it as an informational pattern. This entity, for which Hahnemann uses the word “wesen”, acts from spirit, and uses the power of creating, to bring into form the physical body to use. This power, or we might say functional process, we call the life force. or vital force. Hahnemann says there is really no separation between the wesen and the life force, that we are just giving them different names to make them more understandable.

Now, this is my understanding from the study of psychology, that what the life force creates is the physical body, yes, but also the personality. It is what we experience as ourselves — the physical form, memory, conditioning, content of consciousness.

This instrument is what is perceiving, reacting, and evaluating what is experienced in life. How experience is evaluated and reacted to is an individual process, dependent upon what is held in the consciousness of that individual.


When the life force encounters the life force of another — whether plant, mineral, animal, or person — there is an awareness of it. The perception may be seen as insignificant and passes by, or it can engage the attention with interest and be pursued further.

It can, also, be seen as something harmful and the life force takes a defensive posture. This defensive response Hahnemann calls a mistunement of the life force. This is an interesting word to use. If we think of mistunement of a song, we realize that it is simply an alteration of frequency of the key. It is not that the song becomes softer, or louder, or plays a different tune.

It is an alteration of what is playing so that is sounds differently. If we come back to mistunement of the life force the same process would be a change in how it is working, but only in terms of the outcome appearing differently. There is no loss of energy.

  • #19 Since diseases are nothing other than alterations of condition in healthy people which express themselves through disease signs, and since cure is likewise only possible through an alteration of the patient’s condition into the healthy state…

Hahnemann is saying that the mistunement is the alteration of the condition of healthy people. We can put it like this — when the patient is mistuned, they are still a healthy person, but what has happened is a change in how that mechanism of health is now functioning. Why does this change of function result in discomfort and suffering? Why does it not just rapidly deal with it?

The Inadequacy of the Life Force

It is interesting that Hahnemann says the life force is not designed to deal with disease.

Organon Introduction: The life force, that glorious power innate in the human being, was ordained to conduct life in the most perfect way during its health. The life force, which is equally present in all parts of the organism (in the sensible as well as the irritable fiber) is the untiring mainspring of all normal natural bodily functions. It was not at all created for the purpose of helping itself in diseases nor for exercising a medical art worthy of imitation. No!

Its role is to operate and maintain the physical instrument in an optimal state, not to deal with disease threats.

Hahnemann does not go further into this or answer the question why the life force was not made to deal with it. My conclusion about it is that this is because the experience of disease is optional, in the sense of not part of the original plan, and only happening because of conscious interpretation of what is experienced, felt as potentially harmful.

This life force reaction, Hahnemann tells us, is not effective, is awkward, resulting in what we call the disease state. Thus Hahnemann tells us in the Introduction not to imitate it. In his day he was referring to the various imitative practices such as sweating the patient, blood-letting, causing diarrhea, that these are not useful.

The conventional medicine of our time now puts more emphasis on blocking or removing the effects of the mistunement while leaving the underlying disease itself unchanged.

The Homeopathic Mechanism

Having this perspective we can now look again at how the remedy has effect. We

saw in aphorism 29, the description of the process.

Aphorism §29

  1. The life principle, which has been dynamically mistuned by the natural disease, is seized, during homeopathic cure, by the similar yet somewhat stronger artificial disease-affection which results from the application of the medicinal potence, selected exactly according to symptom similarity.
  • The feeling of the natural (weaker) dynamic disease-affection is extinguished and disappears for the life principle and, from then on, no longer exists for the life principle which is occupied solely by the stronger artificial disease-affection.

We can put it like this.

  • The remedy, being similar to the original disease influence, meets the same susceptibility in the patient. In other words, the individual is as susceptible to be influenced by the remedy as to the disease influence. It is the similarity.

The remedy influence can be made stronger than the disease influence. That disease influence does not have much strength and we can make a remedy have much more power though the process of dilution and succussion.

  • When this similar remedy is administered, being more powerful and also similar, it simply takes over the attention of the life force. The remedy is seen as more of a possible threat.
  • When the wesen’s attention is shifted to the remedy, that releases the prior focus/attachment to the disease influence which had held it in place. It is now released, gone.
  • The remedy effect is short, temporary, and leaves only the state of health.

From this understanding we can see why homeopathy is so effective compared to “natural healing” or allopathic medicine. The natural recovery of disease happens with the gradual relaxation of the defensive posture of the life force as it senses nothing more is happening.

The allopathic method does not go to the root of the problem, but deals with effects. Homeopathy, in contrast, almost immediately removes the focus on the original disease influence and the healthy state, that is still there, simply becomes manifest again.

A question might be “How about bacteria or viruses that grow in the body? Aren’t they actually harmful?” It is a good question and could lead to a long discussion. I will say briefly it is obvious that poison ivy leaf is threatening only in the sense of resulting in a reaction of the skin.

In the same way the bacteria or virus will actually grow in the body and cause damage. There are actually very few such harmful microorganisms in the total number that exist. However, the disease causing ones have the intention to grow in the body, that is their “natural” functioning.

This intention, if it meets susceptibility, then will result in more than the poison ivy mistunement in that it is growing. Nonetheless, the homeopathic action is the same. The similar remedy meets that intention of invading and growing within and brings the focus of awareness away from it.

When this happens the invitation given by the bacteria or virus is no long responded to, and the problem ends.

Further Implications

We can say that the homeopathic process is really simple. When the attention of the life force is focused on what is seen as a threatening influence we can distract it from that focus by giving a substance that will be seen the same way, only stronger. The original influence now moves on, once freed of focussed attention.

Why is the second influence, the remedy, not also causing disease in the same way? A good question don’t you think?  Possibly it has to do with its similarity. It is not an exact match to the original disease influence, rather very similar to it. Perhaps that similarity is eventually recognized and the attention of the life force is not sustained on it. I have seen reports of using for treatment the presumed cause of the problem as a remedy and it actually causing more disease. For example, treating poison ivy rash with a remedy made from poison ivy. Hahnemann clearly tells us not to use the same, but the similar.

 The End of the Road?

An interesting journey. If we have come to have a new understanding of our work, seeing the patient differently, as well as the dynamic of the disease process, what new things will unfold for us? What I have found is that bringing the emphasis to consciousness, the physical world being a manifestation, an outcome, then there are new doors that can be opened. I have found it fruitful to study psychology, quantum physics, mental healing, spiritual healing, many other sources of information that can help to extend Hahnemann’s ideas. I find it very confirming if similar ideas have emerged within other areas of investigation and experiment.

An example is from the work of David Bohm, quantum physicist (1917-1992). He was trained in quantum physics, first at the Pennsylvania State University and later at the University of California, Berkeley, where he obtained his PhD in Physics. He is one of the outstanding figures in this field, having studied with Einstein, and reformulating the relationship between quantum mechanics and relativity theory.

He saw the universe, and all in it, as one whole, coherent domain (a holistic view), and that we are to regard matter and life as a whole, coherent domain, which he calls the Implicate Order. (Implicate here has the meaning — strongly suggesting the truth or existence of something not expressly stated)

For Bohm, there is an infinite sea of energy (aka Aether) filling empty space, with waves moving around in there, occasionally coming together and producing an intense pulse. This sort of energy, filling the apparent empty space, or deeper reality (implicate order) as Bohm calls it; is what organizes, shapes and sustains the material things in the Universe, with coherence, including ourselves (the wesen?)

Does this not sound like the life force? The language of Hahnemann, over 200 years ago, and that of David Bohm in more current time, is not the same. But is not what Hahnemann is saying that we come from spirit, a non-physical source, similar to the idea of there being a non-physical sea of energy that underlies all physical manifestation, and organizes and shapes it?

In Closing

There are many mote doors we could go through, to pastures that are very interesting, but we do not have time now. I hope you have enjoyed the trip, and will enjoy the rest of the journey.

About the author

Richard H. Pitcairn

Dr. Richard Pitcairn graduated from veterinary school in 1965, from the University of California at Davis, California, and worked on a PhD degree emphasizing the study of viruses, immunology and biochemistry. Working in a mixed practice he saw a wide variety of health problems, but to his disappointment, did not see the results that he expected using the treatments learned in veterinary school. He became interested in alternative medicine, nutrition and homeopathy. He found homeopathy to be intellectually complete and satisfying, and after studying and using it for some 20 plus years, has had remarkable success. Since 1992 he has taught a yearly course, The Professional Course in Veterinary Homeopathy, to train animal doctors in homeopathy.
Dr. Pitcairn was a founding member of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy and also served as its president. With Susan Pitcairn he wrote two editions of Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, a classic in the field, which sold over 350,000 copies.


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