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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K049-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Judaism, Christianity and Islam are usually cited as the major monotheistic religions. These are religions which acknowledge only a single god, and which construe that god as transcendent – that is, as a being who is distinct from the ordinary world and superior to it. They also construe this god as a person or as very much like a person. The polytheistic religions agree with monotheism, for the most part, in construing the gods in personalistic terms, but they acknowledge a plurality of gods. Pantheists, on the other hand, usually accept the singularity of the deity, but reject the transcendence, identifying the deity more closely with the ordinary universe, perhaps as a certain aspect of the universe or as the totality of the universe considered in a certain way. They also are likely to reject the personalistic idea of the deity.

This entry will discuss some philosophical aspects of the contrast between monotheism and polytheism. There are different ways of understanding ‘acknowledge’ in the characterization of monotheism given above. One may believe that there exists only one god. Or one may believe that more than one god exists, but worship only one, or hold that it is wrong to worship more than one. A closely related issue concerns the concept of deity that is employed in such beliefs and claims. The ‘high’ Anselmian conception of Christianity’s god – a being than whom no greater can be conceived – is only one account. Perhaps of most philosophical interest is the problem as to whether logical argument can demonstrate polytheism to be false and establish the truth of the Anselmian account.

Citing this article:
Mavrodes, George I.. Monotheism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K049-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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