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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N034-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2019
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

The basic idea of monism is that reality is, fundamentally, one. This contrasts with any view on which reality is, fundamentally, many, or with any view on which reality is not fundamentally any way at all.

The basic monistic idea can be understood in different ways. One important distinction is that between existence monism, on which reality just is a single entity, and priority monism, on which there is just one fundamental entity (though there may be numerous nonfundamental entities). Monism is thus properly understood as a family of metaphysical positions.

Different versions of monism have been supported in a variety of ways. Priority monism has been defended by arguments from quantum entanglement (it is claimed that the cosmos as a whole is an entangled system, and such systems are more fundamental than their parts). In addition, it has been supported by arguments from general metaphysical principles, for instance from the possibility of gunk (that every entity has proper parts); priority monism can accommodate this possibility, whereas rival views may not be able to. Existence monism can be defended by appeals to parsimony, and also by arguments from vagueness (any object short of reality as a whole would have vague boundaries, but there are independent reasons to think that no object can be vague in this way).

The arguments in favour of monism have themselves been criticized; for instance, different conceptions of quantum entanglement have been offered, on which the entangled system is not more fundamental than its parts. Priority monism has been criticized for relying on contentious assumptions about fundamentality. It has also been claimed that it cannot accommodate the possibility of parts of the cosmos themselves having intrinsic properties. Existence monism has been criticized for not being able to accommodate facts about conscious experiences. In addition to this, existence monism must deal with the obvious problem that there seem to be many more objects than reality as a whole.

Citing this article:
O’Conaill, Donnchadh. Monism, 2019, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N034-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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