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Philosophical Monism

Types of monism

Monism in philosophy can be divided into three broad categories:

  1. Idealist, phenomenalism, or mentalistic monism which holds that only mind or spirit is real[3]
  2. Neutral monism, which holds that one sort of thing fundamentally exists,[18] to which both the mental and the physical can be reduced[6]
  3. Material monism (also called Physicalism and materialism), which holds that only the physical is real, and that the mental or spiritual can be reduced to the physical[3][18]
a. Eliminative Materialism, according to which everything is physical and mental things do not exist[18]
b. Reductive physicalism, according to which mental things do exist and are a kind of physical thing[18][note 3]

Certain positions do not fit easily into the above categories, such as functionalismanomalous monism, and reflexive monism. Moreover, they do not define the meaning of "real".

Monistic philosophers


While the lack of information makes it difficult in some cases to be sure of the details, the following pre-Socratic philosophers thought in monistic terms:[19]

  • Thales: Water.
  • Anaximander: Apeiron (meaning 'the undefined infinite'). Reality is some, one thing, but we cannot know what.
  • Anaximenes: Air.
  • Heraclitus: Change, symbolized by fire (in that everything is in constant flux).

It is clear that Parmenides was a monist since he argued that Being or Reality is an unmoving perfect sphere, unchanging, undivided.[20]


  • Neopythagorians such as Apollonius of Tyana centered their cosmologies on the Monad or One.
  • Stoics taught that there is only one substance, identified as God.
  • Middle Platonism under such works as Numenius taught that the Universe emanating from the Monad or One.
  • Neoplatonism is Monistic. Plotinus taught that there was an ineffable transcendent god, 'The One,' of which subsequent realities were emanations. From The One emanates the Divine Mind (Nous), the Cosmic Soul (Psyche), and the World (Cosmos).