I have a pretty decent understanding of what its proponents think, but I can’t seem to find anything criticizing the view as more places link back to pro-oneness sources. So in to get both sides of the issues what are reasons to reject oneness/non-dualism.

  • Google Scholar might be a good place to start.
    – g s
    Jul 3 at 3:00
  • The SEP article on physicalism has a section The Case Against Physicalism.
    – nwr
    Jul 3 at 3:19
  • The idea of Nonduality is to be done with getting lost in thought, so objectors would be found, here, or other places people like to debate things. If they identify as debaters, there is little likelihood that they will find reasons (already a problematic tack) to stop reasoning. So what you get from this question will simply talk around the issue, like talking about the temperature of the water instead of just going in to swim.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 3 at 13:48
  • @ScottRowe If the termperature was 0°C (32 °F) don't you think it healthier to know about it secondhand rather than going for a swim? And if i dont want to expose to that temperature how to know without someone telling? Speaking personally I think non duality is a super costly philosophy. Like gold may be the most indestructible metal yet we can't use it freely, Same way I can't practice non duality when I need emergency medical aid. It's fine as a personal meditation practice. [A subject for chat perhaps if you're inclined...]
    – Rushi
    Jul 26 at 5:55
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    True @ScottRowe. Breaking my own rules I wrote on non duality here
    – Rushi
    Jul 26 at 10:42

3 Answers 3


If you're talking about this:

On the other end of the range is the Advaita Vedanta school (advaita = not two) which is well-known in the West but not as dominant in India. It reads the theocosm/Brahman as one/non-dual, and takes God and the cosmos not to be really distinct, i.e., God = the cosmos.

... then a basic critique of existence monism reads:

Existence monism targets concrete objects and counts by individual token. It holds that exactly one concrete object token exists (the One). It represents an interesting and historically important form of monism, albeit one which is widely regarded as deeply implausible. Consider any two concrete individuals, such as you and I. The existence monist must either deny that at least one of us exists, or deny that at least one of us is a concrete object, or hold that we are identical. This is hard to swallow. (It is important to distinguish existence monism from priority monism, which does not have this implausible implication.)

... The existence monist and nihilist can of course just “bite the bullet” by accepting [the horrible linguistic consequences of the blobject] but claiming overriding arguments otherwise. But this is a dialectically difficult situation for her: whatever support the premises of her arguments otherwise might have will almost certainly pale in comparison to the support [the problem of the horrible blobject] provides for existence pluralism. Not for nothing are existence monism and nihilism widely dismissed as crazy views.

Further along, they discuss more of the back-and-forth of the existence-monist/blobjectivist dialectic, with a subtle bit of wit here and there (I recommend it highly; c.f. the question of plurally many empty possible worlds).

A more obscure reason to question the classical nonduality picture, although perhaps to rehabilitate it in another direction nevertheless, concerns the cofinality relation in the mathematical theory of ordering generally. Some numbers are cofinal with themselves, whereas other numbers are cofinal with some always-smaller number. Inside the world of normal arithmetic, all cofinality relations are relatively trivial: cf(0) = 0, cf(1) = 1, and cf(n) = 1 for all n > 0. However, the regular/singular distinction quickly blossoms into a jungle of greater possibilities among the transfinite numbers and is a key identifying feature in the characterization of weakly inaccessible cardinals (which have a peculiar feature such that, if a ZFC world is equipped with weakly inaccessibles, it is possible to force a world where the Continuum is inflated to the size of some weakly inaccessible cardinal).

Provably in (relatively) normal such mathematics, aleph-zero is also self-cofinal, while having the defining property of strongly inaccessible cardinals too (otherwise, 0 has the same property, but 1 doesn't), namely it's not the powerset of any small number. In the odd event that one forgets about the replacement axioms, one can tailor the world to be cofinal with aleph-zero, which usually seems absurd, because "intuitively" the absolute infinity of the universe (of sets) should be self-cofinal, too. (This desire to preserve the autofinality of the set world as a whole is sometimes invoked to deflect proposals of much higher functions than replacement gives us by itself, on the ground that equipping those functions with replacement would make them too powerful and volatile to mesh correctly with the rest of their encompassing theory.)

So, then, it is unknowable in ZFC what the answer is to the question, "How many weakly inaccessible (self-cofinal) limit numbers are there?" except we can say, "At least 3: 0, 1, and aleph-zero," or maybe, "At least 4: 0, 1, aleph-zero, and the number of the whole set world V."

Now, the internal meaning of cofinality is a sort of esoteric parthood relation: the "number of parts" in the 0-ordering is 0, the number of parts in the unit-ordering is 1, and then all further finite numbers can be reduced to succession {n, n+1...}, so the parts of their order are again 1 in number. But then the initial level of infinity also represents an order that cannot be broken into a smaller number of parts than it already represents, whereas there is a barely-larger cardinal aleph-omega that can be broken into omega-many parts (and |omega| = aleph-zero). So the existence monist is styled as claiming that the parts of the One are not real, or are not objects apart from the horrible blobject, or whatever along that line, and 1 as a pure number has this special property of unbreakability; but once we pass to a sufficiently infinite domain of objects, we find purchase for the idea that the plurality of the world has a concrete existence (and so is not merely an amalgam of linguistic wishes we make, that we might make sense of our finite knowledge of the infinite world, but plurality is given, though far beyond the naivete of mere duality).

  • "Consider any two concrete individuals, such as you and I", this supposition is already too far and renders any further inquiry circular. This is exactly equivalent to saying "One can't exist because I've already presupposed that we are Two!" If there was more than One, then they must be entirely separate, i.e. not sharing in any attribute, but if they didn't share in any attributes one of the two could not share in the interaction of existence, therefore it can't exist. That you and I exist means we are One, but that you and I are different means the One is precisely the unity of difference. Jul 3 at 20:33
  • @PacificBird that's why they're at pains to specify existence monism as concrete-existence monism, but then such pictures seem yet to be informed by questions about "contingently abstract objects" (re: Zalta). When we pass to pure generality, then we might "prove that there is a oneness to all things" but this proof will be of a trivial, not a nontrivial, oneness. So the trivial/nontrivial distinction becomes more important than the false/true distinction, on that level. Jul 3 at 22:37
  • Two are of one like two fingers on one hand.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 27 at 2:07

The Problem of Discussing and Debating Non-dualism or Oneness

Zen master:

Words cannot describe everything.

Words evoke distinctions which give rise to duality such as the distinction between dualism and non-dualism, monism and dualism, the name of God and the nameless God, ad infinitum. There are no words to describe the source beyond distinctions wherein distinctions arise.

  • 1
    That words can't describe everything is easily seen by everyone. We think discursively and expect that reasoning can apply to everything, but the range of areas it doesn't apply is vast. Reasoning is of no use for enjoying food, learning to dance or do athletics, playing music, painting, and so on. Reasoning mostly reveals its own blindness to 99% of reality. This should be obvious, but reasoning hides it from us.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 3 at 14:13
  • @NotThatGuy - The question does not use the words brain, neurons, neural pathways, or chemicals. Nor do my prior answer or comments. It is unclear what these words have to do with the question or comments except I would infer that you use the words to evoke an association of brain structures with the word non-duality. Jul 3 at 16:02
  • Yeah that’s clearly false, they’re at minimum a distinct between oneness and the experience of distinction that precedes even words.
    – Craigory
    Jul 3 at 16:42
  • 2
    @Craigory - If you are arguing that distinctions arise before words, rather than what I said, that words evoke distinctions, then I agree. When I say words evoke distinctions it means that words have already become associated with the distinctions. I would not assert that all distinctions arise before words, however, for example I think many concepts that I learned in society came via efforts to link words to distinctions that seemed to exist in the minds of my teachers but not in my mind before our interaction. So words and distinctions kind of become a two-way street or co-arising thoughts. Jul 3 at 23:05
  • 1
    @Craigory Decades ago I took a graduate level engineering course called Fuzzy Logic and Neural Networks. The professor said an expert neural network creates knowledge and the knowledge of an expert is more fine-grained. This caused me to contemplate the knowledge domains of various experts, and how some domains generate useful knowledge, and others seem to be esoteric or speculative knowledge. I also think of the many names for the nameless God in Hebrew (every name ending in 'el' is an attribute of God). I also think of the many names for snow conditions in the Inuit language. Jul 4 at 14:42

Ramanuja (an exponent of "Vishishtadvaita" or "qualified non-dualism") had a number of critiques of Advaita, but one in particular stands out to me. I'm paraphrasing the gist of his argument here; I don't have an exact source.

Advaita says that all diverse individuals are unreal, while the only reality is nirguna Brahman (Brahman without attributes). Ramanuja asks, whence does this seeming but unreal diversity of individuals arise? The Advaita answer is that the appearance of diversity arises from nescience/ignorance. Ramanuja then asks, of what subject is this ignorance predicated? It cannot be predicated of individuals because individuals are unreal. Nor can it be predicated of Brahman, because Brahman is Sat-Chit-Ananda (Being-Consciousness-Bliss). As pure Consciousness, nirguna Brahman cannot be ignorant.

I would add my own observation that Advaita (and other similar "non-dualist" systems such as Buddhist Madhyamaka and Yogacara) commits the homunculus fallacy--that is, the fallacy of explaining a phenomenon in terms of the same phenomenon. Or the fallacy of explaining a class defined by certain properties in terms of a member of the same class. It's a fallacy because it fails to explain what it purports to explain.

What Advaita has to explain is, if the diversity of individuals is unreal, then why do there appear to be many individuals? And it answers that diverse individuals appear to exist because of ignorance. The problem is that ignorance is one of the diverse appearances that Advaita needs to explain. So the explanation fails.

Note that the same critique can apply to forms of Mahayana Buddhism. I.e. If all relative dharmas are empty/illusory, why do they appear? A: Ignorance. But ignorance is a relative dharma. So this is the homunculus fallacy.

If you want to know more about Indian philosophical critiques of Advaita, Ramanuja is a great place to start.


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