Thursday 17 June 2021

Monism/ oneness, dualism - and pluralism

The metaphysical idea of monism, or oneness has apparently always held a powerful attraction for intellectuals - at least since the times of ancient India and ancient Greece; and this continues to be the case - including that many self-identified Christians espouse oneness ideas or push Trinitarian concepts a long way in that direction. 

Pluralism, on the other hand, has not been taken seriously as a metaphysical assumption except by William James; despite that (or, more likely, because) it seems to be the spontaneous way of thinking of all children and all hunter gatherers - where it gets called 'animism'. 

The main group of literate explicit pluralists on earth are the millions of Mormons - but they do not seem to be at all interested in the staggeringly radical implications of this foundational assumptions of their faith - and have instead (historically) focused on creating a distinctive church and lifestyle (which is, like other Christian churches under global totalitarianism, rapidly collapsing and being corrupted into The System).

Consequently, monist/ oneness criticisms of dualism, and dualist counter-arguments to monism, take up the whole of the discussion of possibilities that I have come across. 

One main intuitive appeal of monism of the kind that (in the West) is associated with Vedanta Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism and the various syncretic advocates of a Perennial Philosophy - is that it includes everything; and therefore creates a deep and spiritual connection between man and 'nature'. 

Whereas, by contrast, dualistic Christianity focuses almost wholly on God and Man - and modern Christians tend to regard ideas about nature (animals, plants, landscape) as being in fact alive and conscious and in spiritual contact and communication with Men - as being a demonic delusion, a return towards the evils of paganism, magic, etc. 

This attitude of dualist Christians is deep and recurrent, because it stems from metaphysical assumptions - therefore even when Christians personally feel the kind of 'contact' with nature; they have difficulty explaining it it any way which does not subordinate it almost out of existence, which gives it sufficient weight and reality. 

In other words, the dualism of most Christians has been a strong factor working against the kid of Romantic Christianity that I advocate. It can be overcome, and is overcome - nevertheless dualism presents a structural obstacle, a centrifugal tendency. 

If, on the other hand, one adopts a pluralist attitude to reality; which regards ultimate reality as consisting of many, many Beings - with God (the creator) and Men being two of these types of Being; then there is immediately a metaphysical basis for that community with nature which the oneness-advocates put forward as pantheism. 

The difference is that monism/ oneness-advocates regard Man and nature as one with each other only in terms of being aspects of deity - and with the ultimate aim of removing all separation towards an undifferentiated unity.  

Whereas a pluralist hopes for increasing communication and harmony between Beings that shall remain forever and irreducibly separate. The emphasis is on the harmony of aim and methods between Beings, each of whom is alive conscious and with purposes. 

Indeed, the role of God the Creator can be seen as providing the basis for this harmony; so that the pluralist view is 'developmental'. It begins with a chaotic clash of each Being against all; and works towards that harmony of multiple separate Beings which is called Heaven. 

Thus pluralism offers a third possibility - very seldom considered; but which - I believe - combines the best of both monism and dualism. 


Francis Berger said...

"Whereas a pluralist hopes for increasing communication and harmony between Beings that shall remain forever and irreducibly separate. The emphasis is on the harmony of aim and methods between Beings, each of whom is alive conscious and with purposes."

I tend to define the development of religious consciousness as the evolution of how we think about and understand our relationship to God, ourselves, and others. In this sense, pluralism fits this definition to a "t" by incorporating the other two modes of how the relationship between God, oneself, and others is perceived and understood. Moreover, pluralism possesses an expansionary and harmonizing quality that makes relationships between beings central. This is congruous to creativity and adds also credence to theosis.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - I became convinced of pluralism when I became convinced that it provides the only really coherent explanation for free will, or personal agency.

The usual monist or dualist ideas are alike in derived absolutely every-thing from unity - whether as with monism that every-thing is one - or with dualism that every-thing created derives for a single God.

But if our will and agency was originally (or still is) just one; then it is not really free and autonomous. Our will is just branched off from unity - everything about us is really just a derivate of the same unity.

To me this is refuted by the basis datum of our freedom of thinking, and is also incompatible with Christianity - which depends absolutely on each individual being able to choose whether to follow Jesus.

This is such a solid intuition for me, I am amazed that more people have not articulated it; and that so many people don't see matters this way!