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A philosophical or religious theory that maintains that there is an absolute distinction between two irreducible principles, such as spirit and matter, good and evil, mind and body, etc. This is opposed to monism, which posits that there is but one basic principle, substance or nature; it differs too with pluralism, which states that there are many. In western philosophy, Rene Descartes is well-known for his dualism between mind and body. Immanuel Kant also embraced a form of dualism when he spoke of the distinction between phenomena and noumenon.

In religion, dualism is commonly concerned with the existence of two supreme beings or powers that are opposed to each other: such as a benevolent GOD and a maleficent DEVIL. In this respect, we must distinguish between absolute dualism and relative dualism. Absolute dualism believes in the eternal existence of the two opposing principles, such as AHURA MAZDA and AHRIMAN in ZOROASTRIANISM. Relative dualism, on the other hand, assumes that one of the principles is really derived from the other. This is the case with many religions, such as Christianity, wherein the devil is really derived from God.

Eastern philosophies and religions also have dualistic views. SANKHYA, one of the philosophies of India, assumes Purusa(consciousness) and Prakriti (matter) as two fundamental principles in the universe. In contrast to this, ADVAITA VEDANTA teaches NONDUALISM as its basic philosophy.

Theosophy is a nondualistic philosophy. It posits an Absolute principle beyond all manifestations and dualities. It is only in manifestation that there is duality and multiplicity. H. P. Blavatsky wrote that “. . . as we find that impersonality and non-duality is the ultimate end of cosmic evolution, we have to endeavour to work along with Nature, and not place ourselves in opposition to its inherent impulse which must ultimately assert itself” (CW VI:265). However, theosophical literature does speak of “aspects” of the Absolute, such as Abstract Duration and Abstract Space, which are considered eternal.

The term “dualist” appears to have been first used by Thomas Hyde in his Historia religionis veterum Persarum in 1700 where he discussed the religion of the Persians.

For a discussion on the Hindu view on dualism and non-dualism, see INDIAN PHILOSOPHY.



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