Just as I have no truck with fundamentalist or literalist forms of religion, I don't think I'm interested in dumb literalist theories of vitalism, which posit some force or substance that is somehow beyond matter yet acts on it. Dumb vitalism died when the synthesis of urea from inorganic components was demonstrated, thus showing that there was no substantial quality that distinguished the living from the nonliving. So what remains? I'm not sure, just this unshakeable feeling that there is something alive that permeates the world, and that it is as real as anything else, and that it is somehow transcendent or at least orthogonal to the realm of unliving matter. "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower". Or something like that. Just as there are compatabilist versions of religion that can coexist peacably with science, there is perhaps room for a compatabilist vitalism, one that is does not argue against mechanism but lives with it, in it, on it, over it.
I cannot figure out what to do with this feeling. It doesn't really interfere with whatever work I do in support of ordinary science, but it doesn't help much either. Some of it crept into my PhD dissertation, where I looked at how metaphors of aliveness were used in the discourse of programming languages. This was not really ontological vitalism -- it was more of an epistemological treatment, based on the idea that we have different modes of understanding when we think about non-living, physical systems compared with how we think about those that are alive. It's not that living systems contain a magic substance; it's that we can't think about such systems without using concepts like goals, desires, and purposes, and other properties associated with being alive. Organisms may be machines, but they are machines on a level of complexity that we can't capture by comparing them to dishwashers and cars -- they are machines with goals, desires, purposes, and a degree of autonomy. (Of course since then Latour has taught me to see goals and purpose in everything).
I haven't really pursued the idea further since then, but it won't leave me alone.
Awhile back I stumbled on the book Vibrant Matter by Jane Bennett whichs seems to be a post-Latourian philosophy of vitalism, or something like that. From there I learned about the concept of conatus, which means something like the innate tendency of all things to try and persist themselves. There's a whole modern vitalistic tradition that is apparently not dumb (as defined above) but it's not clear what it's implications are or whether it's truly worthwhile or a dead-end.