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The monism is the philosophical or metaphysical , after which all processes and phenomena can position reduced to a single basic principle of the world. Monism thus takes the opposite position to dualism and pluralism , which assume two or many basic principles. In religion , monistic doctrines are often close to pantheism or panentheism , which see a presence ( immanence ) of the divine in all appearances of the world.

Monistic teachings are known several times from the history of mankind. However, the term “monism” was first coined at the end of the 19th century as a Greek-Latin made-up word (from the Greek monos “only”, “alone”, and -ism).

In philosophy

Philosophy often speaks of “substances” that make up the world. While the philosophical dualism mostly assumes two substances - mind and matter - the monism assumes the existence of only one substance. Three broad directions of monism can be identified:

  1. Materialism or physicalism , according to which everything is matter and only physical or material objects and effects are real. This is by far the most popular form of monism in modern times.
  2. Idealism or phenomenalism , according to which everything is spirit and only spiritual processes are real. A variant of this view was represented, for example, by George Berkeley . The “idealistic” form of monism is rarely found today.
  3. Neutral monism , according to which both physical and mental processes are based on a third, independent principle.

Each of these three main directions assumes that all known processes can be traced back to the basic principle mentioned. The principle of reductionism is often used.

Specific forms of monism:

  1. The functionalism is basically a physical monism. In addition, it is assumed that mental phenomena can be reduced to a functional mechanism that is independent of the underlying material. In this sense, a machine that thinks like a human would also be conceivable without the neurons of the human brain. The Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science are close to the functionalism.
  2. The eliminative materialism postulates purely material basic principles, but dispenses with a reductionism to justify spiritual processes such as “wishes”, “fear” or “belief”. According to this theory, these are ultimately unscientific and, like other outdated ideas, will also disappear from the scientific discussion. Burrhus Frederic Skinner's radical behaviorism is a special example of eliminative materialism .
  3. Various non-reductive materialisms discard all reductive proposals. One example is the anomalous monism of Donald Davidson . Sometimes one speaks of supervenience : mental states supervise physical states, but cannot be traced back to them. “Supervening” describes a relationship of dependency: the mental cannot change without the physical changing.
  4. A special form of "idealistic monism" is solipsism , according to which not only everything is mind, but everything is exclusively your own mind - there is no world outside of your own feelings and thoughts.

Ancient Greece

Some ancient natural philosophers were monists, who each believed to have recognized a primordial substance.

European early modern times

Well-known representatives of materialistic monism were Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), Paul Henri Thiry d'Holbach (1723–1789) and Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1707–1751), who based all mental processes on the interaction of material components.

For d'Holbach there was no dualism between matter versus mind or soul versus body ; rather, in his work Système de la Nature ou Des Loix du Monde Physique et du Monde Moral (1770) he advocated a consistent monism. He saw human knowledge , thought or sensation as an expression of the principle of movement and determinism inherent in matter .

Baruch de Spinoza (1632–1677) is sometimes assigned to idealistic monism because of his view that there is only one substance (God), while things, like the mental processes of people, are only modes of this one substance; but see neutral monism .

Indian philosophy

One of the most important directions of Indian philosophy is the Vedanta :

In nature and society

Ernst Haeckel designed the worldview of development monism on a scientific basis . The core of this direction is the full integration of man into nature, an atheism or a pantheism that equates nature and God, and finally the renunciation of any belief in revelation and miracles.

In the 20th century, a scientific approach to understanding processes and systems developed that explains the development of nature and society throughout: The ontological , process-oriented model of emergent self-organization . It can be seen as an extension of biological evolution. In this model, the processes of the world are mapped to a uniform basic process, which works from the Big Bang through the development of life, the functioning of the brain to the processes of human society: Elements that interact with each other arise naturally and mostly spontaneous systems with new structures, properties and capabilities. The processes are influenced by the conditions in their environment.

Since emergent systems can again be elements of further emergent processes, a hierarchy of increasingly complex systems has developed naturally and recursively in the course of the development of the world . The emergent structures, properties and capabilities cannot be predicted from the properties of the elements and must be determined empirically through observations, measurements, etc. Emergent processes are mostly fed back and therefore non-linear; their sequence is determined by the deterministic chaos . The structures and systems are formed due to the non-linearity of the processes.

In political science

In law

In jurisprudence, one speaks of monistic or dualistic systems in various contexts.

international law

In international law , monism and dualism are two main directions that either proceed from the unity of national and international law or from their separation. In the case of monism, an international legal norm does not need to be transferred into domestic law, but is directly applicable. The prevailing doctrine in Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands, for example, is based on a monism. In Germany, however, the dualistic theory prevails. As a result, international law must first be converted into national law before it becomes justiciable in Germany by private individuals. However, this does not include directly applicable EU law, in particular EU regulations .

Public law / private law

In continental European legal systems there is usually a great distinction made between public law on the one hand and private law on the other. So this is a two-part, dualistic system. In Anglo-Saxon legal systems, however, the unity of law is emphasized, which is why one speaks of a monistic system.

Public stuff

According to the one-tier system, legal issues relating to public matters in the narrower sense - administrative assets and public matters in common use - are judged exclusively according to public law. In particular, a separate, public property system must apply. The dualistic theory, however, depending on the legal question, is partly based on civil law in public matters. In the dualistic system, in particular, the civil property system applies.

The monistic order originally comes from France, but was used in many cantons of western Switzerland. Germany has always known almost exclusively the dualistic system, which has now completely replaced the monistic system in Switzerland.

Property gains tax

In the case of the property gains tax levied by Swiss cantons and communes, the property gains tax is levied on property gains in the monistic system regardless of whether the property is owned by private or business assets. In the dualistic system, on the other hand, real estate gains tax is only levied for private property, while property gains in business assets are subject to income or profit tax. The cantons are free to choose between the two systems (Art. 12 Paragraphs 1 and 4 Tax Harmonization Act).


In copyright law , monism describes the inseparability of the author's rights of personality and exploitation rights. The German copyright law is based on the monistic theory.

In the religions

In the Catholic Church, “divine unity” is identified with the basic principle. Similar views can be found in other branches of Christianity, in Islam or in Judaism. Even with the monotheistic Baha'i there are numerous statements in the Holy Scriptures that can be interpreted monistically.

For Hinduism see above under "Indian Philosophy". The oldest Hindu scripture, the Rig Veda , speaks of a "being-not-being" who "breathed without breath" and whose effect created the world. Practices like yoga or tantra are often referred to as monistic.

In the free religious movement , a religious monism is represented without dividing the world into a here and a hereafter .


  • Arthur Drews : The monism presented in contributions by his deputies . 2 volumes. E. Diederichs, Jena 1908, Volume 1: Systematic , Volume 2: Historical, OCLC 603226340 .
  • John Heil: Philosophy of mind. A contemporary introduction. 2nd edition, Routledge, London / New York, NY 2004, ISBN 978-0415283564 .
  • Franz von Kutschera : The ways of idealism . Mentis, Paderborn 2006, ISBN 978-3-89785-536-6 .
  • Arnher E. Lenz, Volker Mueller (eds.): Darwin, Haeckel and the consequences. Past and present monism . Neustadt am Rübenberge 2006, ISBN 3-933037-56-5
  • Ph. Clayton, A. Peacocke (Eds.): In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being. Panentheistic Reflections on God's Presence in a Scientific World . Eerdman Publishing, Cambridge 2004, ISBN 978-0-8028-0978-0
  • Christoph Wand: Time and solitude. A speculative draft for teaching theology and physics following the analysis of time by Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker . LIT-Verlag, Münster 2007, ISBN 978-3-8258-0899-0
  • Magnus Lerch: All-unity and freedom. Subject-philosophical attempts to clarify the all-unity and freedom: Subject-philosophical attempts to clarify the monism debate between Klaus Müller and Magnus Striet (= Bonner dogmatic studies , Volume 47). Echter Verlag, Würzburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-429-03180-0 (Dissertation University of Bonn 2008, 213 pages).
  • Adrian Brücker: The monistic natural philosophy in the German-speaking area around 1900 and its consequences. Reconstruction and critical appraisal of scientific hegemonic claims in philosophy and science . Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Berlin wvb, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-86573-641-3 (Slightly modified version of dissertation University Bielefeld 2011, 733 pages).

Web links

Wiktionary: Monism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. RB Laughlin: Farewell to the world formula, Piper 2009
  2. Günter Dedié: The Power of Natural Laws - Emergence and Collective Abilities from Elementary Particles to Human Society, 2nd edition, tredition 2015
  3. G. Jetschke: Mathematics of Self-Organization, 2nd edition, Harri Deutsch 2009
  4. With contributions by Franz Wukettis ( Haeckel, Darwin and Darwinism ), Volker Mueller ( Philosophical Monism and Natural Sciences ), Jan Bretschneider ( Monimus and the World Mysteries), Rudolf Bährmann ( Haeckel's concept of ecology ), Eckhart Pilick ( Between Theory and Belief - Disparate tendencies in monism ), Heiko Weber and Olaf Breidbach ( Der DMB 1906 to 1933 ), Bernhard Ahlbrecht ( The monistic Sunday sermons by Wilhelm Ostwald ), Lars Jentsch ( Evolution of religion? ), Arnher E. Lenz ( Der Deutsche Monistenbund after 1945 ) u. a.