DUALISM AND MONISM: A NOTE ON TERMINOLOGY
A NOTE ON TERMINOLOGY
I will begin with a statement which many will find shocking: There has never been and there can never be an agreed, uniform, standard terminology in philosophy. The reason for this is that philosophy is not, and it is not in its nature to be, a science. Philosophy is a never-ending exercise of contemplating the inexhaustible and strictly ineffable reality of our inward being. In giving expression to that inexhaustible and ineffable reality philosophy must ever create new concepts and clothe those new concepts in new language.
If we were absolutely free, unembodied spirits, that would be the whole truth of the matter. But we are not. We are imperfect human beings living together in a common world and need to communicate with each other and be understood by each other. We need a language that is not completely originative, as the ideal language of philosophy or of poetry would be if we were free spirits, but is a language with some measure of fixity and some degree of uniformity. But we should not make the mistake of thinking this a step in the direction of what is best. Our aim should not be ever to achieve more fixity and uniformity; rather we should gladly welcome loosening the fixity and disturbing the uniformity. And yet the contingent necessities of our imperfect nature must be addressed. Let this be my excuse for the following note.
I have often felt that the usage of the terms ‘dualism’ and ‘monism’ in contemporary philosophical discussions calls for clarification. Some of my friends, with whom I stand on common ground with regard to certain important philosophical questions, describe themselves as dualists and, when counting me on their side, have called me a dualist. I find this confusing and, to me personally (if you will excuse the egotism), irritating.
I cannot accept the dualism we meet with in the Aristotelean misrepresentation of Platonic idealism or in Descartes’ separation of mind and body any more than I can accept the dualism represented by primitive notions of the self. Starting from this dualism, it is impossible to make sense of either mind or body. But the alternative is not the ‘monism’ which maintains that the body is all there is and that the mind is a gossamer apparition, a delusion. When I insist on the reality of the mind and affirm that the mind is the one reality we know immediately and indubitably, I do not call myself a dualist, for I maintain that there is no mind without objective existence (embodiment) and no objective existence without intelligence, and that only the whole is real. The emphasis I lay on mind is, we may say, moral and not metaphysical or epistemological. I emphasize the reality of mind since I hold that our whole worth and our whole diginity as human beings is in this inner luminescence, this inwardness, this inner sanctuary, that Socrates habitually referred to as that in us which thrives by doing what is right and suffers by doing what is wrong.
I have no intention to legislate for the linguistic usage of these terms. It is enough for me to say that there is a dualism that I find unacceptable and a monism that I find equally objectionable and that while in principle I resent all isms and all labels, I would rather be called a monist than a dualist, but insist that the monism I favour is not the monism of materialists. My position is more in harmony with Spinoza’s Pantheism, where God-or-Nature is a single reality, where the one Substance is natura naturans and natura naturata at once.