Why do any serious philosophers at all believe that only one thing exists in the universe? What are the reasons they give? And are there any serious philosophers that believe no thing exists in the universe?

  • There is a deep link to Asian religions which offer some reasons.
    – Drux
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 7:19
  • The reason is simple. And this reason is an apparent (and real) connectivity of everything in the universe. But don't you think you get what this one thing one god means. One can be (and will be) represented by multitude too. Basically Monism is a deeper statement that everything is connected. Even two gods. Think about it.
    – Asphir Dom
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 12:21
  • Your question is rather too broad, as there are many different monistic theories. I was going to lay out a theist argument for monism of existence but realized it would become too specific and technical.
    – infatuated
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 8:39
  • I do say that. And don't call me Serious.
    – user16869
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 2:10

6 Answers 6


Monism does not necessarily posit that there is one thing that is the whole so much as everything is really one kind of thing.

Just to give one quick example to show it's less crazy than you think in modern thought.

Many of todays leading scientists and quite a large percent of philosophers are materialists. Materialists are a type of monist as they believe the only thing that exists is matter (you can try quibbling by pointing out energy, dark matter, etc., but these are ultimately differentiations on the same thing according to the theory).

  • 1
    +1. It's also worth mentioning that most scientists are also reductionists, and that the progress of science has reduced all the various types of matter down first to elements, then to atoms, then to subatomic particles and now to the level of different types of quarks. All matter is quarks, from the point of view of quantum mechanics. Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 12:19
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    @ChrisSunami: One extremely interesting observation that's been made about those fundamental particles: the equations that describe a particle and its anti-particle are identical if you allow the anti-particle to travel backwards in time. If this is more than just a mathematical quirk, it could mean that a matter/antimatter annihilation is actually that particle performing a U-turn in time. This would also explain why all quarks of a given type are indistinguishable from each other - every electron could actually be the same electron, zig-zagging back and forth in some 4+ dimension ballet.
    – Dave B
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 16:15
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    Can you cite a reference for that - "many of today's leading scientists and quite a large percentage of philosophers are materialists"? - I am unfamiliar with that study. Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 9:33
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    @ChrisSunami not all matter is quarks. For instance, Dave B mentioned the electron. There are a small number of known particles, the most recently added being the Higgs. Things have actually become more complex from when they thought everything was electrons, neutrons, and protons. Which is one reason why they are looking for another theory to simplify it again.
    – Richard
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 10:12
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    Virmaior, not a comment on you statement, a comment on the sad fact that most scientists in the US only receive an education in science, not in the other liberal arts. They have no grounding as to science being a philosophy and to the limits of science. Their only exposure to theological arguments is what they have heard from dualistic protestant preachers. I would be an atheist too if that was all I had been exposed to. Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 10:45

Spinoza in his Ethics had proved Proposition XIV

"Besides God no substance can be granted or conceived"

which has a Corollary I with this:

“...only one substance can be granted in the universe...”

Surely, now we do not consider such proofs as proofs. However, it reveals some truth.

If one conceives two independent substances, she should accept that they would interact. An interaction would demand a common ground, therefore it will undermine the independence and a monism becomes inevitable.

One can point to Christian God - he can influence without being influenced, but one can argue that this construction is too abstarct or too artificial.

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    This would be a better answer without the snark. Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 16:56
  • @Chris Sunami I've edited my answer. Helas! Now the part of the question concerning serious philosophers is not adressed at all... :))) Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 19:42
  • One can also point to Logic and/or Mathematics, as examples of things that influence without being influenced. Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 17:47
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    @RBarryYoung Yes, like Platonian ideas. Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 18:02

A contemporary philosopher who is defending a version of monism is Jonathan Schaffer, whose work can be found here.

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    This is essentially a link-only answer, which is discouraged on SE sites. You should at least include a summary of the content.
    – Tim S.
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 21:46

The division of the world into separate "things" seems obvious, but may not withstand certain types (e.g. time-scales) of scrutiny.

Consider your body, for example: it sheds skin flakes; you eat and breathe; where does your body begin, and where does it end? Is it the same thing tomorrow, as yesterday? In what sense is it a thing that's objectively separate from other things?

  • Folly Beach, SC
    – user16869
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 2:14

The notion of "thing" is a mental construct, and the reason to differentiate one from another is entirely arbitrary. In a gaseous world, the notion of "thing" is very difficult to comprehend.

My own attitude toward monism is that of an agnostic, i.e. there is not enough evidence to suppose monism is false and it is unnecessary to believe it is true.

Whitehead & Russell's Principia Mathematica does not require the existence of more than one individual for its primitive propositions. The axiom of infinity is added in the middle of the second volume as a hypothesis for the existence of aleph-null.

  • So Beautiful.
    – user16869
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 2:13
  • Not always a comforting thought. Every morning, after one drops a deuce, he does not want to think he is still in one with the excreta Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 3:08

The present scientific materialists is not the norm when you study the philosophical musings of many of the great scientific minds from Newton to Bohr to Planck to Einstein to Schrodinger to name a few - over the centuries. Their ideas of "God" were a monistic one.

A good reference is "Quantum Physics and Ultimate Reality: Mystical Writings of Great Physicists" By Michael Green; it is a collection of writings of various scientists, including Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Pauli, Eddington, Dyson, Bohm, etc. To quote one, Albert Einstein -

"..I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls.

"Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavor to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself to nature....I maintain that cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest incitement to scientific research...Those who acquaintance to scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to those like-minded with themselves, scattered through the earth and the centuries...It is a cosmic religious feeling that gives man strength of this sort.

A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that is this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people....science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind....the main source of the present day conflicts between the spheres of religion and science lies in this concept of a personal God."

They all have a great affinity to a monistic concept.

A good reference to study the various monistic traditions, Eastern and Western, and their differences is David Loy's book "Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy"

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    Two suggestions: 1) please use paragraphs and formatting. as written, it's very hard to read. Second, while many of the other answer (including mine) address materialism, your answer no differently concludes that many leading scientists across time are monists as in pantheists, which is a pretty hard position to defend from science by comparison.
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 10:41
  • Monism is not pantheism. There is a great misunderstanding in the West, even among Western theologians and philosophers that equates monism with pantheism. Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 4:27
  • Loy's book Rocks. It is the first (and so far only) e-book have I bought. The last Hardback I bought new was "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism."
    – user16869
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 2:17

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