I think that a living thing and a non-living thing differ only on the basis of the definition of life that is being used in that particular instance. The basic scientific definition usually includes homeostasis, reproduction, etc. - in what fundemental way are those properties different from polarity, solubility in ethanol, or any other? They aren't - the definition was not built organically (no pun intended) from the bottom up, i.e. based on observations of the actual phenomena themelves. The definition was constructed so as to fit an already established concept - life as we know it. The status of anything as living or non-living is fixed by its similarity to ourselves. A phenemenon wasn't observed and given a name; a name and concept existed and the circumstances necessary for the phenomenon to exist were found.