AskDefine | Define dualist

Dictionary Definition

dualist n : an adherent of dualism

Extensive Definition

Dualism denotes a state of two parts. The word's origin is the Latin duo, "two" . The term 'dualism' was originally coined to denote co-eternal binary opposition, a meaning that is preserved in metaphysical and philosophical discourse but has been diluted in general usage.

Moral dualism

Moral dualism is the belief of the coexistence (in eastern and naturalistic religions) or conflict (in western religions) between the "benevolent" and the "malignant". Most religious systems have some form of moral dualism - in western religions, for instance, a conflict between good and evil. Like ditheism/bitheism (see below), moral dualism does not imply the absence of monist or monotheistic principles. Moral dualism simply implies that there are two moral opposites at work, independent of any interpretation of what might be "moral" and - unlike ditheism/bitheism - independent of how these may be represented.
For example, Mazdaism (Mazdaen Zoroastrianism) is both dualistic and monotheistic (but not monist) since in that philosophy God—the Creator—is purely good, and the antithesis—which is also uncreated—is an absolute one. Zurvanism (Zurvanite Zoroastrianism), Manichaeism and Mandaeism, are representative of dualistic and monist philosophies since each has a supreme and transcendental First Principle from which the two equal-but-opposite entities then emanate. This is also true for the lesser-known Christian gnostic religions, such as Bogomils, Catharism, etc. More complex forms of monist dualism also exist, for instance in Hermeticism, where Nous "thought" - that is described to have created man - brings forth both good and evil, depending on whether it receives prompting from God or from the demons.


In theology, 'dualism' may also refer to 'bitheism', 'duotheism' or 'ditheism'. Although ditheism/bitheism imply moral dualism, they are not equivalent: ditheism/bitheism implies (at least) two gods, while moral dualism does not imply any -theism (theos = god) whatsoever.
Both 'bitheism' and 'ditheism' imply a belief in two equally powerful gods with complementary properties. However, while bitheism implies harmony, ditheism implies rivality and opposition, such as between Good and Evil. For example, a ditheistic system would be one in which one god is creative, the other is destructive (cf. theodicy). In a bitheistic system, one god could be male and the other female (cf. duotheism). However, bitheistic and ditheistic principles are not always so easily contrastable, for instance in a system where one god is the representative of summer and drought and the other of winter and rain/fertility (cf. the mythology of Persephone). Marcionism, a nominally Christian sect (but denounced as a heresy), held that the Old and New Testaments were the work of two opposing gods: both were First Principles, but of different religions.

In Eastern mysticism

Alternatively, dualism can mean the tendency of humans to perceive and understand the world as being divided into two overarching categories.However that definition is considered a tad controversial. In this sense, it is dualistic when one perceives a tree as a thing separate from everything surrounding it, or when one perceives a "self" that is distinct from the rest of the world. In mystic traditions such as Zen or Islamic Sufism, a key to enlightenment is "transcending" this sort of dualistic thinking, without merely substituting dualism with monism or pluralism.
The opposition and combination of the universe's two basic principles of yin and yang is a large part of Taoist religion. Some of the common associations with Yang and Yin, respectively, are: male and female, light and dark, active and passive, motion and stillness. Although, these interpretations are just the common concepts which are some aspects derived from the greater concepts of Yin and Yang. The Tai-Chi in actuality has very little to do with Western dualism, instead it represents the Eastern dualism philosophy of balance, where two opposites co-exist in harmony and are able to transmute into each other.
The complementary aspects of masculinity and femininity are revered by certain Neo-pagan religions.

Mind/Matter and Mind/Body dualism

In philosophy of mind

In philosophy of mind, dualism is any of a narrow variety of views about the relationship between mind and matter, which claims that mind and matter are two ontologically separate categories. In particular, mind-body dualism claims that neither the mind nor matter can be reduced to each other in any way, and thus is opposed to materialism in general, and reductive materialism in particular. Mind-body dualism can exist as substance dualism which claims that the mind and the body are composed of a distinct substance, and as property dualism which claims that there may not be a distinction in substance, but that mental and physical properties are still categorically distinct, and not reducible to each other. This type of dualism is sometimes referred to as "mind and body" and stands in contrast to philosophical monism, which views mind and matter as being ultimately the same kind of thing. See also Cartesian dualism, substance dualism, epiphenomenalism.
The belief that body and spirit exist as two separate entities was first documented in approximately 1000 B.C. by Zoroastrianism, and has become a very common view to the present day.

In Buddhist philosophy

During the classical era of Buddhist philosophy in India, philosophers such as Dharmakirti argue for a dualism between states of consciousness and Buddhist atoms (the basic building blocks that make up reality), according to "the standard interpretation" of Dharmakirti's Buddhist metaphysics. Typically in Western philosophy, dualism is considered to be a dualism between mind (nonphysical) and brain (physical), which ultimately involves mind interacting with the physical brain, and therefore also interacting with the micro-particles (basic building blocks) that make up the brain tissue. Buddhist dualism, in Dharmakirti’s sense, is different in that it is not a dualism between the mind and brain, but rather between states of consciousness (nonphysical) and basic building blocks (according to the Buddhist atomism of Dharmakirti, Buddhist atoms are also nonphysical: they are unstructured points of energy). Like so many Buddhists from 600-1000 CE, Dharmakirti’s philosophy involved mereological nihilism, meaning that other than states of consciousness, the only things that exist are momentary quantum particles, much like the particles of quantum physics (quarks, electrons, etc.).

Soul dualism

In some cultures, people (or also other beings) are believed to have two (or more) kinds of soul. In several cases, one of these souls is associated with body functions (and is sometimes thought to disappear after death), and the other one is able to leave the body (e.g. a shaman's free-soul may be held to be able to undertake a spirit journey). The plethora of soul types may be even more complex.

Consciousness/Matter dualism

In Samkhya philosophy

Correctly distinguishing between Self (Spirit/Consciousness Purusha) and Matter/Nature (Prakrti) is of central importance to Samkhya Philosophy. Samkhya Philosophy elaborates a fundamental dualism between such aware Selves and all the phenomena that is presented to such Selves by Matter/Nature. Such phenomena of Matter/Nature includes reflections of the intellect, the faculty that makes things personal (the I-Maker/Ahamkara), the instinctual mind (manas), the capacities to perceive sense data, the capacities to act, the principles of the elements of sense perception, and the gross elements. These arise when Prakriti is in the presence of a Purusha, and they become enmeshed and entangled when there is mis-identification between Prakriti and Purusha. False confusion between the Self and what is not the Self is considered the fundamental ignorance that perpetuates bondage in this world. Liberation is sought by becoming aware of such distinctions on a very deep level of personal knowledge, so that one may eventually use the great faculty of the mind -- intellectual reflection (Buddhi/Mahat) -- without mistakenly identifying it with the Purusha, and then the effects of such entanglement will unravel and one will no longer be bound by incarnations or confused by Prakriti.

In Vedanta philosophy

The Vedanta philosophy is divided into dvaita (dualistic) and advaita (non-dualistic). Neither propose dualism in consciousness and matter. While the dvaita philosophy distinguishes between atman and brahman, the advaita philosophy looks at everything as Brahman which has three fundamental attributes sat-cit-ānanda (truth-consciousness-bliss).
Advaita vedanta insists that the experiential personal realization of unity of everything must be achieved. Until a person achieves such realization, advaita vedanta uses the Sanhkya dualism of consciousness and matter for describing the world.

In philosophy of science

In philosophy of science, dualism often refers to the dichotomy between the "subject" (the observer) and the "object" (the observed). Criticism of Western science may label this kind of dualism as a flaw in the nature of science itself. In part, this has something to do with potentially complicated interactions between the subject and the object, of the sort discussed in the social construction literature.

In contemporary feminist theory

A theory relating to dualism and a contemporary feminist world view is presented by Susan Bordo. Bordo contends that dualism has shaped Western culture since the time of Plato, through Augustine and René Descartes, up to the present day.
All three of these philosophers provide instructions, rules or models as to how to gain control over the body, with the ultimate aim of learning to live without it. The mind is superior to the body, and strength comes from disregarding the body's existence to reach an elevated spiritual level.
Bordo believes that the influx of various patterns of disordered eating, particularly the overwhelming rise in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, is the most telling and compelling argument that dualism is central to modern thinking. Furthermore, Western dualism is an adulterated form of historical philosophical dualism, an artificial mode of hegmonic power regulations. To cognitively and practically adopt the mode of Western dualisms is often a dangerous and oppressive way of looking at the world. For example, those who are anorexic seek to gain ultimate control, and depriving oneself of food makes one a master of one's own body, which creates a sense of purity and perfection. Again, Bordo contends that this stems from dualism, the mythological separation of the mind and body.
Ecofeminist philosopher Val Plumwood argues in Feminism and the Mastery of Nature that a logical thought process inherent in the dualistic relationship is necessary to justify exploitation and oppression of the other. The formation process of these ideologies is apparent within the five characteristics of dualisms. They are: (1) Backgrounding—The master denies the essentialness of and dependency on the other. (2) Radical Exclusion/ Hyperseparation—All differences between the groups are made to have positive and negative connotations. Continuities between the master and the other are denied. (3) Incorporation—The master creates the norm, and the other is seen as substandard. The other cannot be independently identified, but is dependent on the master for its specification. (4) Instrumentalism—The other is objectified and made an instrument or resource to the master. The other must set aside its own welfare to serve the master. (5) Homogenization/Stereotyping—This is necessary within each of the two groups to reinforce and naturalize the differences between the groups.

In recent religious and philosophical movements

In recent years, after European Imperialism, the distinction between "eastern" and "western" philosophy has been less significant than in previous times. In the wake of these changes new religious and philosophical movements have drawn freely upon many of the world's religions to attract new initiates. Dualism is often cited within these groups, along with ideas of oneness, wholeness and theories of multiple intelligences.
In the Emin Society (printed in their archives) Dualism is presented as the Law of Two, which is said to have seven levels:
  • First level: Apparent Opposites
  • Second level: The apparent opposites are actually two ends of the same bar (or the North-South vector is split by the East-West vector) (or the law of things adjacent)
  • Third level: Pitching and Yawing, (or Basque bargaining)
  • Fourth level: Balance and Movement
  • Fifth level: Solve and Coagulate
  • Sixth level: Over and Under Compensation
  • Seventh level: Apparent movement between two poles (or hot and cold)
The Discordian religion has two competing forces that rely on each other: Order and Chaos. These two are further separated, falling into either constructive or destructive versions of Order and Chaos. This is illustrated by the Discordian Hodge Podge (also Sacred Chao), a symbol that is similar in design to the Taoist yin yang.

Political dualism

In politics, dualism refers to the separation between the legislature and executive power, which keeps a balance between the two, ensuring government doesn't go against the will of the people's representatives. This is an important aspect of the political system in the Netherlands, where it was laid down in the 1815 constitution and it applies to all three government levels (country, province and municipality). Members of government are not member of parliament. At the municipal level, however, this was only realised in 2002, so now aldermen are no longer member of the city council.

See also


dualist in Arabic: مثنوية
dualist in Bulgarian: Дуализъм (религия)
dualist in Catalan: Dualisme
dualist in Czech: Dualismus (filosofie)
dualist in Danish: Dualisme
dualist in German: Dualismus (Philosophie)
dualist in Estonian: Dualism
dualist in Modern Greek (1453-): Δυαλισμός
dualist in Spanish: Dualismo
dualist in Esperanto: Dualismo
dualist in Basque: Dualismo
dualist in Persian: دوگانه‌انگاری
dualist in French: Dualisme (philosophie de l'esprit)
dualist in Western Frisian: Dualisme
dualist in Croatian: Dualizam
dualist in Icelandic: Tvíhyggja
dualist in Italian: Dualismo
dualist in Hebrew: דואליזם
dualist in Georgian: დუალიზმი
dualist in Latvian: Duālisms
dualist in Hungarian: Dualizmus (filozófia)
dualist in Dutch: Dualisme
dualist in Japanese: 二元論
dualist in Norwegian: Dualisme
dualist in Polish: Dualizm (religia)
dualist in Portuguese: Dualismo
dualist in Russian: Дуализм
dualist in Simple English: Dualism
dualist in Serbian: Дуализам
dualist in Finnish: Dualismi (filosofia)
dualist in Swedish: Dualism
dualist in Vietnamese: Thuyết nhị nguyên
dualist in Ukrainian: Дуалізм
dualist in Urdu: ثنویت
dualist in Chinese: 二元論
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