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In contrast to Materialism, Dualism states that over and beyond the physical reality there is a psychic or spiritual reality, and that our beings are not limited to the body alone.  There are a number of different forms of dualism; for example

 Most religions and some philosophies interpret the human entity as a duality of material physical body and immaterial consciousness or soul or spirit.  Paranormal and mystical phenomena are thus valid and pertain to the world of the Spirit, while science describes the material world.

Mind-Body Dualism

 Mind-Body (Body-Mind) Dualism assumes the existence of two distinct principles of being in the universe: spirit and matter, or soul and body.  This was the basic understanding behind the teachings of Plato, according to which the physical world of sense phenomena is but a poor reflection or image of the true spiritual world; sense things being mere shadows of the eternal spiritual things or "Ideas".  The goal of the philosopher was thus the elevation of consciousness, and the contemplation of these pure spiritual forms.  Hence philosophy in its origin was a much more mystical or spiritual thing than it is today

DescartesMind-Body Dualism in the current philosophical understanding of the term originates from one man, the seventeenth century French philosopher Rene Descartes.  It was Descartes who gave the world that much quoted utterance "I think, therefore I am".  He was also the one who popularised the idea of reality as a dichotomy of matter (extended or spatial substance) and spirit (thinking substance, including God).  This form of mind-body dualism became known as "Cartesian Dualism", after the Latin pronunciation of Descartes (Cartes)


web pageDualism - a skeptical overview - from the Skeptics Dictionary

Epistemological Dualism

 The German philosopher Immaneul Kant came to the conclusion (contra Plato) that we can never really know the thing-in-itself (c.f. Hard Sceptism), which he called the Noumenon.  All we can known is our consciousness or experience of this noumenon, the phenomenon.  This idea was taken up more recently by C. G. Jung (Depth Psychology), who said that we cannot know anything, whether subjective or objective, beyond our own psyche or consciousness.  An alternative position, that of Phenomenology (e.g. the German Husserl) denied the existence of noumena and simply concentrated on the phenomena.

Religious Dualism

Just as Materialism is usually associated with Atheism, so Dualism is associated with Theism (or more specifically Monotheism).  Theism, from the Greek theos, "God", is the belief that there is a higher personal power, God or whoever, who is running things.  This may be thought of in a naive way as a vague "higher power"; in a dogmatic religious way as the Deity of one's particular religion or sect; or in a mysti-cal way as the all-embracing Godhead, conceived of as a personal entity.  Existence therefore has a purpose beyond the merely mun-dane, and the fate of the individual and the universe does not have to be a meaningless existence ending in a total extinction

Among non-philosophically-minded people, Dualism is the natural alternative to Materialism, and Theism (belief in a God) is to Atheism (denial of the existence of a God).  Either you are a sceptic, and say there is no such thing as God, the Soul, ex-istence after physical death, etc, but only the ceaseless trans-formation of matter and energy; or you are a religious or spiritual believer, and feel that "there is more to reality than what we can see and touch", that there is a God or "higher power" who created the world, that consciousness is independent of the physical body, and so on.  The Theistic position however represents the Divine Reality (or "God") as a kind of "person", who is separate from, and the creator of, the rest of existence, including oneself.  So it is very dualistic.  I can never become God; I can never transcend my own finitude

The enthusiastic Theist, therefore, holds to a sort of natural-supernatural dualism, whereby the supernatural reality or God acts in the world through prophets, miracles, answering prayers, etc.  So there is a kind of "breakthrough" of the Supernatural into the Natural:

REALITY:           G O D
--------------------| |----------------------
NATURAL             | |
REALITY:           _| |_
                   \   /
   Miracles; Prayers answered; Prophets; etc
       World of Physical Matter and Energy

Of course, the whole idea of a "breakthrough" is itself tied up with the Western dualistic and materialistic perspective, according to which nature and the physical world has become dehumanised, like a vast machine, so that anything out of the ordinary - anything, in other words, which is obviously non-"mechanical" - is automatically considered a "miracle"; a "breakthrough" from a higher spiritual reality.

Metaphysical Dualism

 Moral or "Metaphysical" Dualism suggests an irreducable polarity in the universe between two cosmic metaphysical principles: Light and Darkness, or Good and Evil.  This is the position of certain old Middle Eastern and Persian religions - e.g. Zoroastrianism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, some forms of Gnosticicism, and Manichaeism.  Elements have been incorportaed into current religions like Christianity, especially evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity, which are obsessed with the existence of Satan in the world (drugs, "witchcraft", rock music, etc) and choosing Jesus (the principle of Light) as one's savior to counter him.  In any case, Moral or "Metaphysical" Dualism pretty much overlaps with both Religious Dualism and with Dramaturgy.

Shortcomings of Dualism

Although Dualism is an improvement over gross Materialism, it still constitutes an extremely naive and simplistic explanation of things, for it reduces all the manifold aspects and dimensions of consciousness to only two principles, spirit and matter.  Moreover, there is the dangerous tendency to believe in an external totalitarian Deity, as in the case of the fundamentalist religionists who believe in God (or God and the Devil), the world, the soul, and nothing else.  And many of those even deny that the soul can exist apart from the body; hence there dependence on the myth of bodily resurrection; a truely materialistic scenario if ever there was one!).

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page uploaded 27 May 1998; last modified 24 August, 2004, by WF.