Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Monism holds there is only one (or at least one fundamental) thing in reality: the universe. Pluralism, as normally taken, holds there are many. An underexplored metaphysical view is oligonism: the view that there are (at least fundamentally) only a handful of objects in reality, but more than one.

One way to get oligonism is to take the universe of monism and add God while holding that God is not derivative from the universe. But that’s still a monism about created reality, and my interest here is going to be in oligonism about created reality (the non-theist reader can substitute “concrete reality”).

The most promising version of oligonism is one on which the correct physics of the world consists of a handful of fundamental fields (e.g., gravitational, electromagnetic, etc.) and these fundamental fields are the fundamental objects in reality.

Oligonism suffers from an inconvenient complication as compared to monism. The monist can at least say that we have derivative existence as parts of a fundamental whole. The field oligonist cannot, because there is no one fundamental whole that we are parts of. On field oligonism, what we need to say is that each of us is jointly constituted by the arrangement of a handful of fields: I exist in virtue of the gravitational, electromagnetic and other fields having the right sorts of concentrations here.

Maybe, though, one can have one-many parthood relation: x is a part of y, z, w, ... even though x isn't a part of y, or z, or w, but only of all them jointly. Then we could exist as parts of the gravitational, electromagnetic and other fields, without us existing as parts of any one of them. A one-many parthood relation isn't crazy. Take an Aristotelian or van Inwagen view on which living things are the only complex objects. Now we could imagine two organisms, A and B, that each have a symbiotic relationship with a third object C but not with each other, so that we have two symbiotic wholes: AC and BC. Further suppose that only a part of C is involved in AC and a disjoint part of C is involved in BC. Then we could say that C is a part of AC and BC, but isn't a part of either AC or of BC, nor is there a greater whole ABC that contains all of C.

Of course, I don't think oligonism is true. The main reason I don't think that is that I think we are fundamental.


Heath White said...

I would think classic Zoroastrian dualism -- there is the deity of good/light/spirit and the deity of evil/darkness/matter -- would be a historical example of oligonism.

Philip Rand said...
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Alexander R Pruss said...


Only if the deities were the only fundamental things.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Oh, and I've restricted the view to oligonism about created reality.

Unknown said...

Poderia dar exemplos de filósofos que defendem essa posição?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I don't know of anyone who defends this.