Monism is the metaphysical view that all is of one essential essence, substance or energy. Monism is to be distinguished from dualism, which holds that ultimately there are two kinds of substance, and from pluralism, which holds that ultimately there are many kinds of substance. Monism is often seen in relation to Pantheism, Panentheism, and an Immanent God.


Types of Monism

Monism is often seen as partitioned into three different kinds:

  1. Physicalism or materialism, which holds that only the physical is real, and that the mental can be reduced to the physical
  2. Idealism or phenomenalism, which holds the converse
  3. Neutral monism, which holds that both the mental and the physical can be reduced to some sort of third substance, or energy

Certain other positions are hard to pigeonhole into the above categories, including:

  1. Functionalism, like materialism, holds that the mental can ultimately be reduced to the physical, but also holds that all critical aspects of the mind are also reducible to some substrate-neutral "functional" level. Thus something need not be made out of neurons to have mental states. This is a popular stance in cognitive science and artificial intelligence.
  2. Eliminativism, which holds that talk of the mental will eventually be proved as unscientific and completely discarded. Just as we no longer follow the ancient Greeks in saying that all matter is composed of earth, air, water, and fire, people of the future will no longer speak of "beliefs", "desires", and other mental states. A subcategory of eliminativism is radical behaviourism, a view held by B. F. Skinner.)
  3. Anomalous monism, a position proposed by Donald Davidson in the 1970s as a way to resolve the Mind-body problem. It could be considered (by the above definitions) either physicalism or neutral monism. Davidson holds that here is only physical matter, but that all mental objects and events are perfectly real and are identical with (some) physical matter. But physicalism retains a certain priority, inasmuch as (1) All mental things are physical, but not all physical things are mental, and (2) (As John Haugeland puts it) Once you take away all the atoms, there's nothing left. This monism was widely considered an advance over previous identity theories of mind and body, because it does not entail that one must be able to provide an actual method for redescribing any particular kind of mental entity in purely physical terms. Indeed there may be no such method; this is a case of nonreductive physicalism, or perhaps emergent physicalism/materialism.

Monism in religion

For some, monism may also have religious/spiritual implications. Recognizing this, some inveigh against the 'dangers of monism,' asserting that in order to resolve all things to a single substrate, one dissolves God in the process.

Others say that the "single substrate" is God. Theological arguments can be made for this within Christianity, for example the Roman Catholic doctrine of "divine simplicity", as well as in many other religions (Hinduism and Judaism in particular).

Historically, monism has been promoted in spiritual terms on several occasions, notably by Ernst Haeckel. To the dismay of most modern observers, Haeckel's various ideas often had components of social darwinism and scientific racism.

Monism in Hinduism

The first religious system in India that clearly explicated monism was that of Advaita (or nondualist) Vedanta (see Advaita Vedanta) as expounded by Adi Shankaracharya. It is part of the six Hindu systems of philosophy, based on the Upanishads, and posits that the ultimate monad is a formless, ineffable Divine Ground called Brahman. But even outside nondualist Vedanta, Hinduism is monistic, even as far back as the Rig Veda, in which hymnists speak of one being-non-being that 'breathed without breath,' and which singular force self-projected into the cosmic existence. Such monistic thought also extends to other Hindu systems like Yoga and non-dualist Tantra.

Another type of monism is qualified monism, the school of Ramanuja or Vishishtadvaita, which admits that the universe is part of God, or Narayana, a type of panentheism, but there is a plurality of souls within this supreme Being. In other words, this type of monism, or Monistic theism is the type of monotheism more prevalent in Hindu culture, (with respect to Dvaita) and includes the concept of a personal God as an universal, omnipotent Supreme Being, panentheism and monism. In monistic theism, God is both Immanent and Transcendent.

In some Western monotheistic traditions, God is viewed as transcendent only. Thus the notion of divinity (presence of God) present in all things is absent.

There is a growing undercurrent of monism in the modern spiritual and philosophical climate, evidenced by increasing Western fascination with Hinduism (including Vedanta and Yoga), Taoism, Buddhism, Pantheism, Zen, and similar systems of thought which explore the mystical and spiritual elements of a monistic philosophy.

Pre-Socratic Philosophers

The following philosophers described reality as being:

  • Thales: Water
  • Anaximander: Apeiron (meaning 'the unknown' - reality is some, one thing - but we cannot know what).
  • Anaximanes: Air
  • Pythagoras: Number. Maths entirely describes the world, to the extent that it's logical model is the world.
  • Heraclitus: Fire (in that everything is in constant flux).
  • Parmenides: One. Reality is an unmoving perfect sphere, unchanging, undivided.
  • Democritus: Atoms and void (ie atoms and lack of atoms).
  • Empedocles: Earth, Air, Fire, Water: Four Elements - no longer monism.

See also:

External links

es:Monismo fr:Monisme it:Monismo nl:Monisme (filosofie) pl:Monizm sv:Monism zh:一元论


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