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Monism

MONISM.

Monism is the doctrine that there is only one principle in terms of which all reality is to be explained. Doctrines differ as to the nature and activity of this principle and its relations to the appearance and experience of multiplicity. Monists explain multiplicity or plurality in the world either as derivative from the one principle or as an illusion. Monism is found in philosophical, religious, and cosmological doctrines. The concept itself is ancient, though the first appearance of the term monism in Western philosophy is in Christian von Wolff's Logic (1728).

Religious Systems

Religious monism has two forms: atheism and pantheism. Both deny that there is a transcendent deity. Pantheism posits a deity that is immanent to the world and on which the world completely depends. Atheism states that there is no deity at all. Critics of pantheism sometimes conflate it with atheism, on the grounds that a true God must be transcendent.

Brahmanism.

Among the most ancient forms of pantheism is Brahmanism. Many of its main tenets were expressed in the Upanishads and systematized by the Vedanta-sutras. Its beginning is traced to the seventh-century thinker Gaudapada, who denied individuation and plurality. Appearances, as well as individual minds, are only temporary manifestations of the all-soul. Master Sankara (c. 700750, India), author of commentaries on the Brahma-sutra, on parts of the Upanishads, and on the Mandukya-karika, studied with a pupil of Gaudapada. For Sankara, only the Brahman is real, and plurality and difference are an illusion.

Gnosticism.

Gnosticism is the name given to various doctrines of salvation through knowledge. The first gnostic sects were pre-Christian. Scholars argue about Persian Mazdeism, Greek mysteries, Egyptian doctrines, or Babylonian astrology and religions as possible roots of Gnostic thought. Gnosticism came into contact with Judaism and early Christianity, borrowing some names and concepts, though refusing the main tenets. Ancient Gnosticism held that everything flows from one purely spiritual principle. The origins of matter were explained as a flaw in a long line of successive emanations from the one principle. While matter is impure, its existence is temporary: Gnostic eschatology states that ultimately the original unity and purity will be restored. Gnostic sects include the Syrian school and the Alexandrian school (early second century).

Sufism.

Only rarely do Judeo-Christian forms of mysticism accept monism. John Scotus Erigena (c. 810c. 877) in Ireland, Johannes Eckehart (Meister Eckehart; c. 1260?1327) in Germany, and Nicholas of Cusa (14011464) endorsed forms of pantheism. The same is true for Islamic Sufism, which appeared as a reaction to the overly worldly tendencies of Islam in the late seventh century c.e. While most Sufi authors stressed personal discipline, asceticism, and purity as necessary elements to prepare the soul to know and unite with a transcendent God (which hardly qualify them as monist), it is interesting to mention figures that stressed a metaphysical unity of all beings in God. In the thirteenth century, the Spanish-born Ibn al-'Arabi (11651240) created a theory of the "Unity of Being." According to this theory, all existence is one, a manifestation of the underlying divine reality. Sufi currents that stressed the unity of all reality were present also in Indian Muslim communities in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Mainstream Sufi authors reacted against monistic trends, stressing that a unity of vision (the mystical experience) did not correspond to a unity of reality.

Philosophical Systems

In philosophical systems, three forms of metaphysical monism can be identified: materialism, idealism, and neutral monism (in which the first principle is neither matter nor mind).

Neutral monists.

Parmenides (b. c. 515 b.c.e.) juxtaposes doxa (mere belief or nonbeing) and aletheia (truth or being). Being is one, unchangeable, and atemporal, and the experience of change and plurality is illusion. Parmenides's student, Zeno of Elea (c. 495c. 430 b.c.e.), argued against the reality of plurality and motion. Plotinus (205270 b.c.e.), the most famous and influential of the Neoplatonists, held that everything is an emanation from the One, flowing to lower and lower degrees of reality until matter is formed.

Another famous monist was Baruch Spinoza (16321677). In his Ethics (1677), Spinoza argues that there is at most and at least only one substance, God. His study of René Descartes (15961650) and the new science resulted in a metaphysical system where everything is a necessary manifestation (mode) of this single substance, which is conceived under the attributes of extension and thought.

Materialism.

Materialists deny the existence of any nonmaterial substance. Materialists are often, but not necessarily, atheists: some, such as the Stoics, or Thomas Hobbes (15881679), held that God is corporeal. Among the earliest forms of materialism was atomism. Leucippus (5th century b.c.e.) and Democritus (c. 460c. 370 b.c.e.) believed in an infinite number of indivisible bodies (atoms) moving in a void (nonbeing). Their movements, aggregations, and interactions explain every aspect of experience, including mental life. Epicurus (Greece, 341270 b.c.e.) developed an atomistic ethics, claiming that the pleasures of the mind and the deliverance from passions constitute human happiness. Lucretius's (c. 100 to 90c. 55 to 53 b.c.e.) poem De rerum natura (On the nature of things) had the most developed exposition of ancient atomism. Other atomist-like schools include the Indian school of Vaisesika, founded presumably by Kasyapa (c. 2nd3rd century c.e.), which posited an infinity of atoms, of which nine kinds are identified, which constitutes all reality. The Medieval Islamic group of Asharites known as the mutakallimun (8th12th century) held that God was the direct and continuous cause of all created beings (composed of atoms) and of the maintenance of each atom, from instant to instant. This doctrine of atomic time presaged Descartes and the Occasionalists, though without the commitment to a transcendent God.

Seventeenth-and eighteenth-century materialism arose with the scientific revolution's mechanical philosophy. Most natural philosophers were not materialist monists (because they believed in a transcendent God and in incorporeal souls), yet there are exceptions. Giordano Bruno (15481600), who was burned as a heretic, presented a pantheistic system in which the world and its soul are one. Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651) developed a geometrical account of natural, human, and political science, where he argued that reality is only bodies in motion and these explain perception, our human ideas and volitions, and the body politic.

During the Enlightenment materialists like Julien Offroy de La Mettrie (17091751) and Baron Paul-Henri-Dietrich d'Holbach (17231789) wrote about the material and "mechanical" nature of man and rejected any immaterial God. Some Enlightenment philosophers (Denis Diderot, Holbach) were atheists, others opted for deism, or the belief that God acted exclusively through natural laws. The borders between deism, pantheism, or downright atheism were often quite blurred (as in Anthony Ashley Cooper, third earl of Shaftesbury, or Jean Le Rond d'Alembert).

The first half of the nineteenth century saw a strong idealistic and romantic reaction to materialism, yet materialism returned with a vengeance in the second half with the successes of the theory of evolution by natural selection and of Marxism. Karl Marx (18181883) focused on economics, yet, in reacting against Hegelian idealism, endorsed a metaphysical materialism and atheism. In Marx, ideas (intellectual contents) are determined and explained through the material, economic processes of production and ownership, upon which rise social and political superstructures.

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection: Or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859) by Charles Darwin (18091882) made it possible, in Richard Dawkins's words in The Blind Watchmaker, "to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." Darwin was held by many to have produced a fully naturalistic and scientifically robust explanation of the nature of life. Darwinian evolution and natural selection were taken to be a serious challenge to explanations of the creation and development of life by a designing God. While many aspects of Darwin's own theory underwent major revisions with the discoveries of molecular biology and genetics, natural selection has lost nothing of its power as an explanatory tool in contemporary evolutionary biology and is used in many fields to explain structures and functions that are seemingly designed.

Idealism.

Idealism is metaphysical monism that rejects the existence of matter and founds the experience of matter on the mental. Ancient forms of idealism can be found in Buddhist schools.

The Yogacara (or Vijnanavada) school started around the fifth century c.e. in India. Its central doctrine is that only consciousness (vijnanamatra ) is real, that thought or mind is the ultimate reality. External things do not exist; nothing exists outside the mind. Ultimately, the purified, undifferentiated state of the mind without objects or thought processes is what constitutes "Buddhahood." Among the principal figures were the brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu.

The Zen, or Chan school was founded by the Indian monk Bodhidharma, who traveled to China around 520 c.e. (according to the tradition). Zen stresses the use of meditation to experience the unity and indistinctness of reality, which cannot be understood otherwise (any form of verbalization or conceptualization falls into the trap of dualism).

In the Western tradition, idealism was reprised by George Berkeley (16851753), bishop of Cloyne, who held that all we can know are the ideas in our minds. All objects of perception, including matter, are only ideas produced by God. German idealism started later with Johann Gottlieb Fichte's (17621814) transcendental idealism, which he saw as a development of Immanuel Kant's (17241804) ideas. For Fichte, God is the All, and particular objects result from reflection or self-consciousness through which the infinite unity is broken up. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (17751854) held that there is a unity between ideal and real. Absolute idealism explains the process of division of consciousness and nature, and their return to unity.

The culmination of German idealism came with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (17701831), who believed that understanding Geist (Absolute Spirit) would overcome all (Kant's) contradictions in the realms of reason and science. Geist is the principle of reality that makes the universe intelligible as an eternal cyclical process whereby Geist comes to know itself, first through its own thinking, then through nature, and finally through finite spirits and their self-expression in history and their self-discovery in art, in religion, and in philosophy. Later in the century, Hegel's doctrines were developed by a group of English idealists, most notably Francis Bradley and John McTaggart Ellis.

In contemporary philosophy, monism is mostly materialism or physicalism. In psychology and philosophy of mind, it is held by many that the mental is reducible to the physical and may be explained in terms of physical laws. Eliminative materialism (Patricia and Paul Churchland) denies that the mental exists and claims that all "mental" talk will be ultimately eliminated as science progresses. Functionalism is a noneliminativist form of materialism claiming that descriptions of mental events and their intentional natures may be explained by systemic relations among the parts of the material brain (Hilary Putnam and William Lycan).

Anomalous monism (Donald Davidson and John Searle) holds that mental events are ultimately identical to brain states, but that there are no laws (hence anomalous ) that connect brain states to mental states.

See also Atheism ; Deism ; Gnosticism ; Historical and Dialectical Materialism ; Idealism ; Materialism in Eighteenth-Century European Thought ; Zen .

bibliography

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Block, Ned, Güven Güzeldere, and Owen Flanagan, eds. The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997.

Chittick, William C. The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn al-'Arabi's Cosmology. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

Churchland, Paul M. The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996.

Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker. New York: W.W. Norton, 1986.

Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Filoramo, Giovanni. A History of Gnosticism. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990.

Lloyd, A. C. The Anatomy of Neoplatonism. Oxford: Clarendon, 1990.

Lusthaus, Dan. Buddhist Phenomenology: A Philosophical Investigation of Yogacara Buddhism and the Ch'eng Wei-shih Lun. London: Routledge Curzon, 2002.

Lycan, William, ed. Mind and Cognition: An Anthology. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1999.

Moran, Dermot. The Philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena: A Study of Idealism in the Middle Ages. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Phillips, Stephen H. Classical Indian Metaphysics: Refutations of Realism and the Emergence of "New Logic." La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1995.

Ruse, Michael. The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1999.

Searle, John. Minds, Brains, and Science. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Stern, Robert. Hegel, Kant, and the Structure of the Object. London: Routledge, 1990.

Wallis, Richard T., ed., and Jay Bregman, assoc. ed. Neoplatonism and Gnosticism. Albany: State University of New York, 1992.

Westphal, Kenneth R. Hegel's Epistemological Realism: A Study of the Aim and Method of Hegel's "Phenomenology of Spirit." Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1989.

Peter Machamer

Francesca di Poppa

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Monism

Monism


The term monism comes from the Greek word meaning alone or single. While the term was originally used by German mathematician and philosopher Christian Wolff (16791754) to refer to views asserting either that everything is mental (idealism) or everything is material (materialism), monism has wider applicability today, claiming that the various things or kinds of things encountered in the world are somehow reducible to, derivable from, or explicable in terms of one thing (substantival monism) or one kind of thing (attributive monism). The substantival and attributive views are logically independente.g., Baruch Spinoza (16321677) affirmed the first while holding a plurality of attributes; Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (16461716) held the second while countenancing a plurality of substances.

Monism must be distinguished from pluralism, which asserts that there are various things or kinds of things. Monism must also be distinguished from dualism, which claims that there are only two basic kinds of things. Often, however, the term monism is used imprecisely to refer to any fundamental dichotomy in a philosophical or religious system (e.g., good and evil, soul and body, male and female). Of particular interest in the science-theology conversation are the apparent dualisms of mind and body, and God and universe.

A primary motivation for monism is ontological simplicitya world in which there is one basic thing or kind of thing makes fewer ontological claims than one asserting the existence of many things or kinds. Explanation for the monist is homogeneous and coherent; it makes no appeal to entities of a different ontological type when framing its causal stories. Moreover, the assumption of monism (particularly of physicalist variety) has been enormously fruitful. On the other hand, pluralism is motivated by the apparent multiplicity of things and kinds, and the desire to avoid purchasing simplicity at the expense of real complexity. A further advantage of monism is that, unlike pluralism, it does not need to offer an account of a relation that supposedly conjoins fundamentally disparate kinds.

In addition to materialist (physicalist) and idealist monisms, there is also neutral monism and anomalous monism. The first claims that both mental and physical phenomena are manifestations of an underlying neutral stuff. Spinoza and Bertrand Russell (18721970) are associated with this position. The second, advanced by twentieth century philosopher Donald Davidson, holds that while every mental event is token identical to some physical event, mental properties can nonetheless not be reductively identified with physical properties. Because mental properties are individuated holistically according to criteria of coherence, rationality, and consistency which, as Davidson notes, "have no echo in physical theory" (p. 231). Although all particulars are physical (physicalist monism), the incommensurability between mental and physical properties requires a property dualism.

Both substance and property dualism are of interest in the science-theology discussion. For example, most would claim that substantival and attributive monism are both incompatible with the substance dualism of divine and worldly stuff (or creator and created stuff) that theism presupposes. Others have suggested that since God can be understood immanently, a dualism of divine and worldly properties is compatible with a monistic ontological physicalism. The question for the science-theology conversation is whether God-universe or mind-body property dualism coupled with physicalist monism has the resources to avoid reductive explanation, and thus successfully to ground an ontology of the mental and the divine.

See also Dualism; Materialism; Naturalism; Physicalism, Reductive and Nonreductive; Pluralism



Bibliography

davidson, donald. "mental events." in essays on actions & events. oxford: clarendon press, 1980.

drees, willem b. religion, science, and naturalism. cambridge, uk: cambridge university press, 1996.

spinoza, baruch. the collected works of spinoza. ed. and trans. edwin m, curley. princeton, n.j.: princeton university press, 1984.

van inwagen, peter. "individuality." in metaphysics. boulder, colo.: westview press, 1993.

dennis bielfeldt

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Monism

MONISM

Introduced into philosophy by Christian Wolff (1679-1754), the notion of monism refers to ontologies maintaining that all things lead back to mind or to matter. More generally, monism describes a system in which the totality of things is reducible to a single type of entity, be it substantial, logical, physical, or moral. Variations in usage and the competing expression "philosophy of the One" mean that the term should be used judiciously. People speak of the monisms of Parmenides (515 BCE), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), and Wilhelm Ostwald (1853-1932); of the monism of psychophysical parallelism; and even of the monism of the bridge relation that characterizes dualism.

Freud, who deliberately kept away from philosophy, never used the noun monism and seldom used the adjective monist. Yet his dualistic theory of the instincts implicitly challenges the idea of instinctual monism. Freud's treatment of this issue began with his early notion of narcissism in "Psycho-Analytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides )" (1911c [1910]) and culminated in his positing the life and death instincts in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920g). General discussion of these issues included polemics between Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav Jung, and numerous authors have addressed the topic after 1920. According to Freud, instinctual dualism underlies psychic conflicts and forms the foundation for the psychic structures that result from them.

Narcissism, and thus the libido's cathexis of the ego (the locus of the instincts of self-preservation, according to the first topography) threatened to lead to an instinctual monism and left Freud stymied: "These are problems which we are still quite helpless and incompetent to solve" (p. 74), he wrote in "Psycho-Analytic Notes on an Autobiographical Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides )." Moreover, Freud introduced major, complex, irreducible constructs, such as the ego and narcissism, within a theory whose objects he had been at pains to reduce, in the manner of traditional science. This development posed unprecedented epistemological problems for trying to understand these theoretical entitles and brought with it another threat, structural monism. The opposition between object-libido and ego-libido and the idea that the instincts exert continual and constant pressure explained the dynamics of the newly described agencies of the psyche (Freud, 1915c). Freud described additional formsprimary and secondary narcissism, ideal ego and ego idealbut maintained, as he wrote in "On Narcissism," that "a unity comparable to the ego cannot exist in the individual from the start; the ego has to be developed ..., so there must be something added to auto-erotisma new psychical actionin order to bring about narcissism" (p. 77). Freud spent three years developing the theory presented in "On Narcissism: An Introduction" (1914c). Freud thus reduced the threat of monism by positing of the life and death instincts (1920g) and developing the second topography, set forth in The Ego and the Id (1923b).

Freud's delayed introduction of narcissism and the ego was in part responsible for Adler's and Jung's monist dissents. Later, Jacques Lacan's theories on the signifier (the phallus) would suggest another form of monism, a correlate of his static structuralism.

MichÈle Porte

See also: Destrudo; Dualism; Id; Object, change of/choice of; Oedipus complex; Psychosomatic limit/boundary.

Bibliography

Freud, Sigmund. (1911c [1910]). Psycho-analytic notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia (dementia paranoides ). SE, 12: 1-82.

. (1914c). On narcissism: An introduction. SE, 14: 67-102.

. (1915c). Instincts and their vicissitudes. SE, 14: 109-140.

. (1920g). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE,18:1-64.

. (1923b). The ego and the id. SE, 19: 1-66.

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monism

monism (mō´nĬzəm) [Gr.,=belief in one], in metaphysics, term introduced in the 18th cent. by Christian von Wolff for any theory that explains all phenomena by one unifying principle or as manifestations of a single substance. Monistic theorists differ considerably in their choice of a basis of unification. It may be material, as with Ernst Haeckel, who took the substance, or energy, as the only reality. It may be spiritual, as with G. W. Hegel, to whom mind, or spirit, is the reality by which all is to be explained. Or, as in Spinoza, it may be a substance, or Deity, of which body and mind are attributes that are held in equipoise. The opposites of monism are dualism and pluralism.

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monism

monism In metaphysics, doctrine that reality consists of a single unifying substance, or that the mental and physical are indivisible. Spinoza saw this substance as God, while Hegel believed it was the Spirit. German philosopher Christian Wolf (1679–1734) coined the term monism. It contrasts with dualism. See also pluralism

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monism

monism Any philosophical theory which states that all being may ultimately be referred to a single category. In sociology, theories such as historical materialism are often described as monist, and the term is also applied more loosely to causal accounts which attach sole importance to a single explanatory factor.

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Monism

Monism. The belief that only one substance exists, in contrast to pluralism. Monistic religions are therefore those which maintain that there is only one underlying substance (Lat., substantia, standing under) despite the multiplicity of appearances. Advaita Vedanata is thus monistic, in contrast to Dvaita.

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monism

monism doctrine of one (supreme) being; theory which denies the duality of matter and mind. XIX. f. Gr. mónos single; see -ISM.

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monism

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