With the rise of Materialism and Physicalism a dualistic ontology has fallen out of favor. The successes of Science makes makes us comfortable to deny any entity beyond the "Observable Universe". Humanity has fallen into the habit of saying: "Science has all the answers, or will get them soon".

Duality itself is mostly thought of as a world of opposites, like a static interpretation of Yin Yang, or simply as existential incommensurables. The view is that Duality is one part real and one part unseen, unscientific, imaginary things. However looking closer we find a multitude of dualities, some discredited ontologies, some abstract concepts, mathematical realities and scientific facts. Moreover there are different modes of "opposition", co-dependence, or perspective paradigms.

Then there are the following:

In Formal Logic we learn that the Form of the argument is paramount, not the truth value of it's statements. We have to have a valid argument before we can have a sound argument. But then, in order to go from a valid to a sound argument we need to introduce something from outside it's form: we need to assign truth values. Thus for rational reasoning itself we have a dual aspect, we have to draw on two domain ontologies: one from the study of Logic and one from the study of (for instance) Science. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument

Predicate dualism, as used by Donald Davidson in his thesis of Anomalous Monism https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anomalous_monism & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind%E2%80%93body_dualism#Predicate_dualism, tells us that "mental events are identical with physical events, and that the mental is anomalous, i.e. under their mental descriptions, relationships between these mental events are not describable by strict physical laws". It is some of the predicates we use that cannot be described by physical laws, but that they are a necessary abstraction for cognitive processes. Now to me this sounds like a consummate monist has implicitly stated that there are a dual nature to the human being: a physical gestalt and a mental. Can the Mind even exist without a dualistic, or multiplistic, construction.

Moreover from Information Science ontology, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontology_(information_science) we learn that not all ontologies are compatible. Ontology alignment is a manual process, i.e. a top down operation that requires the intervention of an entity(programmer) with more information/knowledge than is contained in either or both the ontologies to be merged. Not only an understanding of the contents of each, but also an understanding of how they relate, is required. Considering this taken with the implications of Predicate dualism, we should begin to wonder, with renewed vigor, how the physical process of Evolution could produce the Human Mind.

Also of interest, some examples of physical processes or the theories used to describe them:

Implicate and explicate order from David Bohm's book: Wholeness and the Implicate Order.

Complementarity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complementarity_(physics)

Wave–particle duality: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave%E2%80%93particle_duality

Now from all this it seems that certain phenomena cannot be comprehensively described by a single ontological paradigm or a cohesive theoretical framework. Maybe because of pragmatic/efficient reasons, maybe it is a physical effect of Gödel incompleteness... At the end of it all Duality, in all of it's guises, permeates every one of our intellectual endeavours. Might one even say that Duality may be more than a second ontological category but even a fundamental principal of our familiar material ontology.

Is there any efforts towards incorporating a view such as this into a rigorous theory of existence? Has Dualism been completely abandoned? Is there any account for why dualistic phenomena are so commonplace? (apart from simple denial or an appeal to incomplete information)

There are forces that attract, and there are forces that distract.

  • 1
    Although dualism is a minority position today it has some influential supporters, usually in the form of property dualism, admitting irreducibly non-physical properties of matter to account for qualia and consciousness, for example. Nagel and Chalmers are the most recognizable names.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 17:34
  • What about idealism, the concept that everything is one mental substance, and the physical world is an illusion?
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 6:10
  • @Conifold Note that "Anomalous Monism", as in the question, could be functionally (in the context of the question) replaced by almost any type of Property Dualism. The point being that even physicalists (must) admit dualism in some sense. Also, there are some constructs, both physical and mental, that require dual aspects. So this isn't about Dualism as a binary ontology, a better term would be Multyplism, rather it's about dualism as a metaphysical principle and the ontological implications. See also my question: philosophy.stackexchange.com/q/53408/33787
    – christo183
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 7:43
  • @CortAmmon If you look at the sections on Logic and Information Science you'll find that they deal with abstractions rather than "physical" entities. Specifically, proceeding from a logical Form to a real world usable argument we need introduce something "alien" to that logical Formalism. We are contemplating Duality as an inherent principle in every ontology, or even a member of some sort of super-ontology. See also the reply to Conifold.
    – christo183
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 7:58
  • 1
    It's really too short to be an answer, but I, myself, like to think of what Alan Watts called the only secret in the universe: "For every inside there is an outside."
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 14:42

3 Answers 3


There were a lot of stateme ts about what is not possible. But monism is very much possible, for the phhsicalist materialst paradigm.

It is worth saying that a lot of scientists hold the view that there is a single unambiguous external world. Which there can only be, if it is is held in some universal mind experiencing it. This view smuggles in property dualism, where objectivity is transferred onto a universal subjectivity, which can hold the laws of physics within it. Descartes did this, and many scientists continue to do so without realising, or acknowledge the implicit theology involved. An nascent alternative I like is https://www.p2p-simulation-hypothesis.com

Substance dualism is problematic, because is requires an explanation of how the substances connect and interact. Descartes view, that it was through the pineal gland, is probably the most unsatisfying part of his views. Science generally holds to property dualism, that physical existence and information arise from the same material substance. An increasingly popular view among those trying to unite quantum field theory with general relativity is the idea that information is the fundamental substance https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_physics#Wheeler.27s_.22it_from_bit.22 “We don't understand the world as made by stones — by things. We understand the world made by kisses, or things like kisses: happenings.” - Carlo Rovelli (a leading quantum loop gravity theorist)

An interesting dualism is the hemispheres of the brain. Research on https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Split-brain patients suggests our right hemisphere mainly coheres our sensory input into a mental model of the world, and our left hemisphere coheres our sense of ourselves and projects ideas about ourself into the world we are simulating. Niether is fundamental, and it would be more accurate to say we exist at the intersection of the two.

This fits with the Buddhist epistemology of mind, which holds that mind arises at the sense gates, the border between body and mind. The Yogacara school of Mahayana Buddhism has probably the most complex and fully developed version of this, which unites bodily and mental experience, with our karmic and inherited experiences https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight_Consciousnesses

Buddhist thought struggles to explain the rigorous patterns found the material world. This seems to stand beyond the world of karma, intention, and mind - although karma is a far more complex system than generally understood, able to include earthquakes not as personal judgements but as consequences of the shielding from solar radiation the Earth's molten core provides, for instance.

The flipside, is that Western thought is really struggling with consciousness. Very little consensus exists in philosophy or science in the West, about how to even begin answering this question. Integrated Information Theory is a fairly modern and promising candidate. It From Bit and the idea that information is fundamental, seems to point in some way toward Mind as more fundamental than matter, as the monistic substance.

It seems to me, bicameralism of the mind, and the different strengths of Eastern and Western thought, point toward reality as somehow being at the border between minds and world(s). David Deutsch in the Fabric Of Reality draws attention away from the idea that physics can answer all our questions, and towards the idea that a complete picture of how we got here is involved, genetics, epistemology, computation, and quantum mechanics (specifically the many worlds interpretation) all being involved. In this perspective, we cannot seek only outside, we must look to how our minds work, as being fundamental to a full prediction of how the universe behaves. And Eastern thinkers too, are drawing attentiin to the need to unite their methods for introspection with examining the nature of the world: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/8q89x4/dalai-lama-religion-without-quantum-physics-is-an-incomplete-picture-of-reality

Perhaps the fundamental dualism is a kind of dialogue, a dialectic, between facing inward and facing outward. We are not disembodied Cartesian minds grasping concepts a priori, as Wittgenstein showed there is a collective community quality to mind. Perhaps in this view we can reconcile the internal and the external, and the communal, in a surface of shared reality.

  • "smuggles in property dualism" This insidiousness of duality, to sneak in where we try to think, got me thinking: perhaps dualism is not so much an ontology as a precondition to comprehension of ontology. With a substrate of 'matter' and a superstratum of 'mind' we "exist at the intersection of the two". But if there is two, there could be more? philosophy.stackexchange.com/q/53408/33787 Integrated Information Theory is a good lead. But... "bicameralism", Strange loops, makes me wonder: Awareness of Information need further duality; maybe Matter is just an information channel.
    – christo183
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 7:38

The opposition to dualism is intrinsic to human conception of understanding. Fitting the pieces together is defined as a higher and better level of knowledge: http://info.teachstone.com/blog/integrating-integration-into-concept-development. This program of finding a more ultimate knowledge has spawned two programmes which reject dualism, reductive science in the west, and non-duality in the east.

The program of integration of the sciences through reductionsim has foundered in recent decades (see section 5) https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-reduction/, to the point that most scientists and philosophers of science consider it a failed programme.

There are three basic alternatives which are advocated in opposition to scientific reduction: pluralism --where different fields are simply not logically integratable https://www.jstor.org/stable/20114958?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4786542/; emergence and tiered explanatory layers http://old-classes.design4complexity.com/7701-S14/reading/critical-thinking/emergent-properties-of-scale.pdf, and wholism. The social science oriented thinkers have tended to focus on pluralism, and biological science thinkers on either emergence or wholism. http://www.academia.edu/1828028/The_limits_of_reductionism_in_biology_what_possible_alternatives https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/reduction-biology/

Emergence, or wholism offer alternate ways to potentially integrate knowledge and science. In contrast, both spiritual dualism, and Popperian triplism https://www.thee-online.com/Documents/Popper-3Worlds.pdf are claims that the world is intrinsically non-integratable.

With the failure of one of the great integration programmes, yes, the re-evaluation of dualism because of its incompatibility with that now failed conception of science is justified. As is a reconsideration of whether psycho-physical dualism could be fit into either an emergence or a wholistic model.


You chose a very clever title for the question.

We live in a world of opposites. This is just as you say. The question is whether this is the whole world or just the phenomenal world.

Mysticism would say that dualism is false and that a fundamental view requires the sublation of all opposites for Unity, but would concede that the apparent existence of ourselves and our world is dependent on duality (existence/non-existence, self/other, big/small, here/there, God/Man etc). As Kant notes the intellect is entirely dependent on dualities for its operation. Hence the idea that the intellect must be transcended for fundamental truth.

Your question indicates that you've not explored this issue much beyond the philosophy department. For the Perennial philosophy dualism is rejected and monism is rejected for being dualism in disguise. Non-dualism would be the correct view. Yet the dualism of existence is respected. Our world of opposites would be constructed out of the categories of thought and the Kantian antinomies of the intellect.

Thus duality would be precondition for phenomenal existence but would not be truly real (since the phenomenal world would not be truly (fundamentally) real). This would explain why in metaphysics dualism and monism do not work.

Note that the fundamental theory described in the Upanishads is named 'not-two' (advaita), indicating the transcendence of dualism and (by avoidance of the word) also monism. Number and form would be transcended. So I would say that we should think twice about dualism, as you suggest, and then reject it for being metaphysically incoherent.

Regrettably this topic is something of a muddle in science and often Materialism or subjective Idealism are presented as alternatives to dualism rather than paradigm examples of it.

All this relates immediately to Nagarjuna's doctrine of 'Two Truths' or 'Worlds' and the philosophy of 'Middle Way' Buddhism but the topic is too deep to go into here. Briefly and roughly, he divides the world into the conventional (dualistic) realm and the Ultimate (non-dualistic) realm for didactic purposes and in order that we can discuss these issues in an uncluttered way, but for a fundamental view the two realms would be one.

Dualism in any form whatsoever is denied point blank by all well-known explorers of consciousness so the Wisdom literature would be the place to go for a deep discussion of it.

  • Bar "Unity", the question attempts to establish that dualities exist in all conceptions of reality, your answer gives further credence to it. We are not talking about Dualism as a philosophical view of Ontology, but rather as ontological entity. I haven't encountered any explanation on the proliferation of duality (but for in the sense as necessary for creating categories) , and I'm wondering about the metaphysical implications of this. Also see my replies to comments above.
    – christo183
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 9:51
  • @christo183 - I'm not sure what you mean here or I'd add something. Or perhaps there's no need.
    – user20253
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 11:07
  • Duality is so pervasive and basic to human understanding that it seems to me that this should be explained somehow. However the flaws inherent to a dualist ontology (like Cartesian Dualism) apparently constrain most commentators from exploring the significance of this. What I'm getting at is that Ontology should be fundamentally domain specific and that Duality could be an indication of that.
    – christo183
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 13:59
  • @christo183 - You ideas sound interesting but I still cannot follow you. Don't worry, I'm probably being dense.
    – user20253
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 14:18
  • @christo183 Why do you assume that something which is basic to human understanding should be explained somehow? In my own experience, I find that the more basic something is, the more frustratingly difficult it is to explain. A classic example is "love," which many consider to be basic to human existence, and yet poets have spent centuries trying to pin it down.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 25, 2018 at 14:44

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .