Huh. Never made this connection, myself.
A refinement of vitalism may be recognized in contemporary molecular histology in the proposal that some key organising and structuring features of organisms, perhaps including even life itself, are examples of emergent processes; those in which a complexity arises, out of interacting chemical processes forming interconnected feedback cycles, that cannot fully be described in terms of those processes since the system as a whole has properties that the constituent reactions lack.
That's one hell of an interesting way of looking at it, especially when strong emergence is trotted out as (somehow) a physicalist reply to, for example, the hard problem of consciousness. Of course, that would suggest quite a rewriting of science history.
Whether emergent system properties should be grouped with traditional vitalist concepts is a matter of semantic controversy.
Oh, I think there's more going on here than semantic concerns.
Emmeche et al. (1998) state that "there is a very important difference between the vitalists and the emergentists: the vitalist's creative forces were relevant only in organic substances, not in inorganic matter. Emergence hence is creation of new properties regardless of the substance involved."
So a key problem with vitalism was that it was too conservative?
"The assumption of an extra-physical vitalis (vital force, entelechy, élan vital, etc.), as formulated in most forms (old or new) of vitalism, is usually without any genuine explanatory power. It has served altogether too often as an intellectual tranquilizer or verbal sedative—stifling scientific inquiry rather than encouraging it to proceed in new directions."
Of course, what makes the vitalis "extra-physical" anyway? We've revamped our definition of physical in the past. It seems likely we will in the future. Sounds like regarding vitalism as extra-physical is a semantic concern, eh?
On the flipside, let's say something akin to strong emergence or vitalism is possibly true. Then is it really "stifling scientific inquiry" to entertain the possibility, or even be persuaded by it? Or are some conclusions always to be rejected in science?
Ah, wait, I know the answer to that one.