Dialectical monism

Dialectical monism is an ontological position which holds that reality is ultimately a unified whole, distinguishing itself from plain monism by asserting that this whole necessarily expresses itself in dualistic terms. For the dialectical monist, the essential unity is that of complementary polarities which, while opposed in the realm of experience and perception, are co-substantial in a transcendent sense.



To establish its premises, dialectical monism posits a Universal Dialectic, which is seen as the fundamental principle of existence. The concept is similar to that of the Taiji or 'Supreme Ultimate' in Taoism. Accordingly, advocates assert that Taoism as well as some forms of Buddhism (most notably Zen or Chan) are based on an approach consistent with (or identical to) dialectical monism.

Ideas relating to progress or "teleological evolution" are important concepts in dialectical monism. It is important to note, however, that this teleological element is significantly different from that found in other views, owing to the fact that it is a naturalistic progression rather than a result of design or consciousness. Adherents maintain that the nature of dialectical synthesis dictates that the flow of change will tend toward a 'spiral-shaped progression' rather than a perpetual non-progressive (repetitive) circling of history. For dialectical monists, this explains the fact of self-organization in Nature, as well as the observed tendency for human societies to achieve progress over time.


Dialectical monism has been mentioned in Western literature, although infrequently. Sartre used the term on at least one occasion (in an essay relating to Marxism), although it is not clear that his interpretation was identical to that now advocated by modern adherents. For the most part, previous references to dialectical monism in Western traditions are considered to have limited significance.

Although the specific term has never been used outside the West, advocates maintain that dialectical monism has a much greater presence in Eastern traditions. A wide number of Taoist sources are cited, especially those which relate to the Taiji or yin-yang concepts. In addition, several Buddhist works are seen as containing strong elements of dialectical monism, the Heart Sutra being a notable example.

Modern interpretation

As it is promoted today (chiefly on the Internet), dialectical monism refers to a worldview or ontology based in a framework of neutral monism, which attempts to synthesize Eastern mysticism with Western dialectics. In layman's terms, the basic idea is to outline a point of view which recognizes that all is one, but this oneness can only be experienced in terms of duality and creative opposition. Adherents maintain that by understanding this viewpoint and its implications, one learns that "ultimate reality" and "everyday reality" are one and the same, and that existence itself is not only a pragmatic experience, but a deeply spiritual one as well. In this sense, its aim is similar to that of Zen.

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