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Greg Goode – Nondualism in Western Philosophy Pt.3

All great things must come to an end unfortunately and this post by Greg Goode is no exception.

In case you missed Part 1, or Part 2, we are serializing an updated version of his book Nondualism in Western Philosophy, which is a series of pointers to how the Western approach can assist with one’s self-inquiry.

It is less a historical survey, and more a collection of Western views that might serve as tools for inquiry, along with suggestions on how these tools might be used.

Please enjoy the final post from Greg. Without further ado, here is Part 3.



The Turn Towards Language

The older monist-style idealism lost its steam early in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, partly due to the rise of science and mathematics. The popularity of science stimulated an effort in philosophy to emulate scientific styles and methods. Importance was given to observation, verification and language. New philosophical movements arose, such as “logical positivism,” “philosophical analysis” and “ordinary language philosophy.” These movements examine the relations among sentences, as well as between sentences and states of affairs in the world.

Philosophies that focus on language are not themselves trying to make a nondual or monistic metaphysical claim. Rather, they merely critique the claims made by metaphysics about how the world is really is, in and of itself. They root out the metaphysical assumptions of other philosophies and argue that these assumptions are simply not needed to live life or to explain our experience.

One can attack a dualism with the weapons on hand, without leaving anything in its place. This is just what Royce, Wittgenstein, Quine, Sellars, and Colin Turbayne did – they gave the new focus on language a startlingly broad application. The result was to soften, blur or eradicate the old Cartesian and Kantian dualities that had occupied center stage for three hundred years.

Josiah Royce proposes a notion of the world consisting of signs interpreted by an infinity of minds. This is less dualistic than at first appears, since the minds themselves may also be interpreted as signs. Ludwig Wittgenstein turns away from the notion of language as having meanings that represent the world. For him, there is no independent entity called Meaning. Rather, the meaning of a word lies in its use. For Wittgenstein, conversation is a series of language games, where word choices are moves in the game.

W.V.O. Quine argues against the distinction between two kinds of sentences, sentences that are true in virtue of a logical relation between their terms (“No married men are bachelors”), and sentences that are true because they happen to represent facts in the world (“Some men are married.”). This dualism is Kant’s “analytic/synthetic distinction,” and refers to the difference between what we can know without worldly experience, and what we need experience to know. The stronger the grip of the analytic/synthetic distinction, the stronger will be the felt difference between what we supply to knowledge, and what the world supplies. In Eastern nondual terms, this is very similar to the distinction between Self and Other.

But Quine’s view is that the analytic/synthetic distinction does not stand. What really distinguishes the two kinds of sentences, he argues, is that we treat the former kind of sentence as hard to give up, and the latter kind as easy to give up. The difference is merely conventional, even though it is widely believed to be metaphysical. And with the linguistic analytic/synthetic distinction succumbing to Quine’s attack, the metaphysical distinction between Self and Other loses a prime means of support.


Pic by by Evan Ludes©


In Wilfrid Sellars’s attack against “The Myth of the Given,” he proposes that “all awareness is a linguistic affair.” He argues against the classical dualistic empiricism, in which there is supposedly something given to experience in a bare, raw, un-interpreted way, versus something known as the result of interpretation. This “given” is supposedly known non-conceptually, such as a red patch of color, and serves as a secure foundation for interpreted data, which is known conceptually. The conceptual knowledge would be something captured by the statement, “I see something red.” This is the classic empiricist account of something being perceptually given. Most people these days probably subscribe to a view very much like this.

Against this notion of a simple given like the red patch, Sellars argues that there is no such thing as raw and un-interpreted data. Sensing is not knowledge. When you’re driving on “auto-pilot mode,” you might actually be able to stop at a red light, even though you are not aware of having done so. Even a photoelectric cell can be constructed to respond differentially to red vs. green. Knowing, on the other hand, involves bringing something under classification.

Sellars response to the dualist empiricist is this:

If something is given, it’s not an object of knowledge. And if it’s an object of knowledge, it can’t be given.

For example, if seeing the red patch is knowledge or something of which we are aware, then we know that it is a red patch, or that it is something red. In this case it is not a given, but the result of some interpretation and enclosure within a web of concepts. On the other hand, if it is a raw given, it is not something known, but rather exists on the level of a sunburn, or the reaction of the iris to a change in lighting. So for Sellars, the “given” drops out. Knowing is always conceptual, always holistic, always devoid of a distinction between raw and interpreted. For something to be known is for it to exist in the “logical space of having and giving reasons.” Therefore, all knowledge is a matter of language.

Colin M. Turbayne suggests that we get away from the old dualistic “spectator” view of the world, and see the world as a language instead. According to the spectator view, the external world is the photographer’s model, which, thanks to mechanical rules, is conveyed to the theater of the mind. Turbayne proposes that we dispense with this mechanical, ocular metaphor and take up the linguistic metaphor instead.

Why? It is easier to account for oddities and changes in science if we interpret them with the linguistic metaphor as exceptions to grammatical rules or as linguistic evolution. Science can be very hard to explain (and embarrassing as well) with the mechanical metaphor, where we say afresh with every new innovation, “Now we really see the world accurately as it is.” Employment of the linguistic metaphor is an emphasis on language but it is not a monism or a true metaphysical claim. Turbayne is not saying that the world is a language. It is not a machine or giant theater either. He is saying that anything we say about the world is some kind of metaphor. So let’s choose an effective one, and not take any of them literally.

Experiencing the world in this way frees us from the alienating and anxiety-provoking dualisms (such as feeling cut off from the world) that we have inherited from the Cartesian mechanical world-view.



And Away from Metaphysics

Beginning in the early twentieth century, Western philosophy began to sprout reactions against the metaphysical urge. Philosophers such as John Dewey, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Nelson Goodman and Donald Davidson have criticized metaphysical claims that there is a way the world truly is. These writers have inspired anti-metaphysical movements such as pragmatism, existentialism, hermeneutics, deconstructionism and postmodernism.

The individual philosophers and movements lie beyond the scope of this chapter, but many of them are summarized quite nicely by Richard Rorty in a recent article. Rorty, who has referred to himself as an “antidualist” or an “antiessentialist” or a “pragmatist” or a “nonrepresentationalist,” has written tirelessly against metaphysics ever since his well known book Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Rorty, 1981). In his recent article “A World without Substances” (Rorty, 1999), he summarizes the various philosophies that have turned away from making metaphysical claims. He sees most anti-metaphysical philosophies as trying to shake off the traditional dualisms such as essence/accident, substance/property, appearance/reality and subject/object. There are certain other commonalities as well. Anti-metaphysical views do not hold that there is a way that things really are. Instead, they hold that:

• No description of things is intrinsically privileged over others. Its “betterness” depends upon the purpose at hand.

• Things do not consist of essences but of relations to other things.

• We never know a thing-in-itself. We never know anything in a description-neutral way; we only know true sentences about it.

• “Objective truth” does not mean “in touch with reality,” but instead means “in consensus with other inquirers.”

• The old, invidious distinction between appearance vs. reality has given way to the new, pragmatic distinction between less useful descriptions vs. more useful descriptions.

The anti-metaphysical approach is somewhat like Nagarjuna’s teaching, in which phenomenality is likened to Indra’s net of jewels. In Indra’s net, no jewel is primary or basic, and there is no basic substratum or essence holding everything together. Rather, each jewel reflects only the reflections of all the other jewels. Anti-metaphysics can be seen as nondualistic, not by claiming that “reality is One,” but by not falling into dualistic claims. Instead of advocating a new replacement for the essences that have been dropped, anti-metaphysics says, “Let’s change the subject.”


Pic by by Evan Ludes©

Where Do I Go From Here?

All these philosophers say different things. God, ideas, brain science, language, anti-metaphysics! Who’s right? How do I proceed? Since Western philosophy is not as soteriologically minded as Eastern philosophy, there is no strong culture of enlightenment surrounding Western teachings.

Nevertheless, Western nondualistic philosophy can be used as a tool to root out the conceptual bases of suffering. All nondual philosophies attack the claim of a truly dualistic world by attempting to show how our normal understanding of the world is mistaken. Normally, we think that the world is made up of a multiplicity of objects or substances or sentient beings. Nondual philosophies attempt to provide a clearer understanding which reveals how these distinctions are not the case. One just needs to know where to look and how to proceed.



OK, I see that – Still, what do I do?

It can certainly help to have a human, written or internet guide to the Western philosophers. Human guides include college teachers, spiritual teachers and philosophical counselors. You can find teachers through Google, through Jerry Katz’s www.nonduality.com, which includes one of the largest list of teachers in existence. You can find philosophical counselors through www.philosophicalgourmet.com, which evaluates various academic departments, or through www.APPA.edu, the official website of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association. Basic philosophy guidebooks can be found on Amazon by typing “guide to philosophy” into the keyword search field. Lou Marinoff’s Plato Not Prozac! is a well-known place to begin learning how various famous philosophies might be of service. Informative internet links include Garth Kemerling’s www.philosophypages.com and the giant http://www.Epistemelinks.com. There is a much smaller list of books and writers (Western and Eastern) on my www.heartofnow.com that I and others have found helpful.



Test the Grip of Duality

Not all dualities are created equal. Some of these dualities have actually been proposed as the solution to other dualities. Certain dualities exacerbate more than others the sense of alienation and being out of touch with reality. If you are interested in nondual inquiry and have a philosophical bent, you might be able to work on those first. Or you can work on the ones that seems the easiest to dispose of.

You can test the grip of these dualities. Ask yourself about each of the Big Dualities and check how you would feel if you had to live without it: Free will and determinism. Good and evil. Cause and Effect. Matter and spirit. Subject and object. Free will and determinism. When you visualize going about life without this duality, which one gives you the worst sinking feeling? This is probably the one you feel most attached to. Which one seems conceptually impossible to do without? This is the one that is probably the most integral to the rest of your understanding. About which one do you say, “Yeah, and so??” This is the one you can do without most easily.


TAG art by Matthew King


One Duality at a Time

Here are some examples of how you might proceed by tackling the dualities one-by-one.

The notion of free will/determinism often carries a charge. It often seems that human life would be anarchic or chaotic without freedom of choice. If you wish to look into the issue, you can begin with Ted Honderich’s How Free Are You: The Determinism Problem (Honderich, 1993), which shows how a just, fair, safe society is compatible with the notion that our actions are determined by causes. Closely related to this duality is the distinction between good and evil. Do they really exist? Are they absolute? Are there true resolutions to ethical conflicts? Do you feel that a path of nondual inquiry would invalidate this distinction? You might try Richard Taylor’s genial and compulsively readable Good and Evil (Taylor, 1999), which argues that the basis for morality is neither naturalistic nor supernatural, but conventional.

Another related duality is the distinction between cause and effect. Often this grabs our interest because we wish to know what is responsible for the world, and how we can act so as to remain safe. If you are interested in looking into this duality, the classic work is David Hume’s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (Hume, 1999), especially Sections 19 and 43. This groundbreaking work shocked eighteenth century readers by arguing that that cause and effect are nothing other than regularity of succession of ideas. A cause as a special power transmitted from one thing to another simply cannot be found.

One of the more deeply entrenched dualities is matter vs. spirit. Why do they seem so irreducibly different from each other? Why do I feel separate from the moon but not from my thoughts? No philosopher has set out to demolish this distinction in such a thoroughgoing way as George Berkeley. His simplest work is Three Dialogues Betweeen Hylas and Philonous (Berkeley, 1998).



And – The Winner Is

The stickiest duality of all is the distinction between knowledge and its object, which is the same gap that Kant formalized over two centuries ago. This distinction is basic to the claim that knowledge has a real, independently existent referent. According to this duality, our thoughts represent an independent world of physical and mental existents, which are truly present even when they are not perceived or cognized. This duality is perhaps the most entrenched of all. It seems as if every moment of our experience is structured according to this gap. Even questioning it can begin to make a person feel alone in the universe, exposed and vulnerable. This duality is often the last one to dissolve in the course of one’s nondual inquiry.

Examination of this duality makes a person feel as though the world is about to disappear, or that intellectual and perceptual blindness is about to hit. This can be scary and cause people to back away from the investigation. Experienced teachers of course take this fear as a favorable sign that the inquiry is reaching deeper than the word level, and have skillful and helpful ways of guiding the person through the process.

There are several fine shadings on this duality. Various writers attack it by interpreting it as the distinction between subject/object, thought/referent, or language/meaning, appearance/reality. Regardless of how it is clothed, there are several quite direct and helpful attacks on this duality.

Subject/Object – William Samuel and Joel Goldsmith write in a mystical way that everything is an outpouring of God. Samuel’s A Guide to Awareness and Tranquility, (Samuel, 1967) is a triumphant song of praise to God as one’s nature. Joel Goldsmith’s The Mystical I (Goldsmith,1993) and Consciousness Is What I Am (Goldsmith, 1976) proclaims that God is the only cause and the only subject. Everything else is an effect of God’s nature.

Thought/Referent – If you would like a nondualist account of the relation between a thought and its referent, you might consider Blanshard’s The Nature of Thought (Blanshard, 1939), particularly a chapter in Vol. I entitled “The Theory of the Idea,” which generously examines various theories and concludes that our ideas, when fully developed and fully coherent, just are that reality.

Language/Meaning – Wittgenstein performs a similar task in his influential Philosophical Investigations. Here he investigates the relationship between language and its object. Using aphorisms and often cryptic pronouncements, he argues against the picture theory of meaning (that language accurately captures reality). He states that this picture theory is a kind of bewitchment. He argues that language is better understood by its use in particular contexts which he calls “language games.” Meaning lies in use, not in a separate metaphysical realm that language supposedly points to.

Appearance/Reality – Things seem so intransigently distant because we think that our thoughts are supposed to represent an independent reality that is not made of thoughts. One of the best philosophical antidotes to this dualism is W.T. Stace’s clear and engaging “Refutation of Realism” (Stace, 1934). Stace (1886-1967) was a mystic and a philosopher who combined Eastern with Western approaches. In his 1934 article he updates Berkeley by arguing that there is no such thing as an unexperienced object.

Then there are Richard Rorty’s well-written essays in his Objectivity, Relativism and Truth, Vol. 1 (Rorty, 1991), especially the Introduction and “Inquiry as recontextualisation: An anti-dualist account of interpretation.” Rorty calls himself an “antirepresentationalist.” He argues against both realism (the external existence of the world) and antirealism (there exists only a web of beliefs). Both sides of the debate are based on the unsupportable claim that our ideas represent things that are not ideas. This representational claim can never be proven, so there is no basis upon which to make the distinction between realism and antirealism. Hence the distinction is unnecessary.



A Note about Who is Right

Sooner or later most serious enquirers reach a point of doubt or exasperation. ` Who is right?” This frustration parallels the one felt by aspirants in Eastern traditions. These aspirants observe that the advaitins say everything is consciousness, while the Buddhists say it’s all emptiness. Faced with this diversity, the philosophical aspirant finds herself asking who is correct, or whether the teachings can be reconciled.

The question really hits home when one considers the goal of inquiry – the pacification of the sense of separateness. One begins to ask, How can this pacification arise when one’s teachings might be saying the wrong thing? Teachings seem so different! No one wants to be led down the wrong road. So the aspirant comes to feel the need to adjudicate between teachings, or at least prove that they are all saying the same thing after all.

Skillful nondual inquiry confronts this very issue squarely. One comes to see how the goal of a picture of a real world beyond the picture makes no sense. The very notions of “accuracy” and “representation” themselves depend on a dualistic split between appearance and reality. In other words, any nondual inquiry that goes far enough will bring peace about this question.



Nondual Nacho Satsang

[Excerpted from a conversation over a plate of nachos]

So, can Western philosophy really help?

A: It has helped for others. The insights and teachings are out there. Yes, they’re scattered, and not as easy to find in one work such as Nisargadatta Maharaj’s I Am That. But they are there.


That’s just it! It’s so all-over-the-place! How do I find direction?

A: Do an internet search “philosophy” and “practitioner” or “counselor” and ask whether the practitioners you encounter can help with nondual inquiry. Follow your heart, which will let you know which philosophical issues are relevant to your nondual inquiry, if any. Explore the bibliography and weblinks in this article.


How do I keep all this from getting dry like a brainiac?

A: Again, follow your heart. Of course this stuff isn’t for everybody – no approach is. But if it has gotten under your skin, then the deeper your desire for clarity on issues like free will, knowledge/object, self/other, etc., the less dry you’ll find the philosophical approach. It’s quite similar to Advaitic jnana yoga and Buddhist analytic meditation. Some of those who do this inquiry find that it matters more than anything else, and it shows up as the breath of life itself. You can also combine this approach with yoga, meditation, exercise, loving-kindness, and devotion to a chosen figure or ideal.


 But that sounds like a lot of “doing.” I’ve heard that there’s nothing to do.

A: Hah! That itself is a great topic for inquiry. Is it really the case that there are bodies and a world, but no actions, no performers of actions? Why would certain kinds of things really exist, and other kinds of things really not exist? Is there really any difference between inquiry, and a bird singing on a tree branch? Is there really anything counterproductive about performing an action or participating in activities? This is a rich area to look into. And in a thorough nondual inquiry, this is one issue that always comes under scrutiny!


Are there groups that do this?

A: As of yet there’s no widespread Western-style social context for this exact kind of inquiry. Nothing large and analogous to the satsang movement. Small, private gatherings do happen (for instance, I have an occasional “nondual dinner” on Thursdays in Manhattan, New York, and there are others in the country as well).

But the culture of Western philosophy is slowly starting to enlarge. The West is seeing a growth in cafes philos, diners pensants, and salon gatherings. These social structures are already in place, and Western philosophical self-inquiry is well suited to their dynamics. There’s no doubt that Western inquiry or combined East/West-style inquiry will grow, and take new shapes as it proceeds.








Popular general search engine, very commercial.


General meta-search engine, searches other search engines for you, not so commercial.





Jerry Katz’s comprehensive site on nonduality.


The links page on my site. Includes books and writings I have found helpful.





Official non-profit site of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association. Members can assist with study on the well known Western philosophers. Some members can assist with nondual inquiry.


Guide to Philosophy on the Internet, by Peter Suber at Earlham College. He stopped updating it in 2003, but many links there are still active.


General philosophy web portal. Lots of links to links, from e-texts to job listings!


Ranks the academic graduate programs in philosophy.


Garth Kemerling’s philosophy site. An easy first stop to look up a philosophical word, book or person.


The authoritative Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy online.





Online library. Charges a monthly fee, but you can find classic, old, obscure, and out of print books and articles here.


Episteme’s (see above) E-texts page.




*View the detailed Bibliography [for all three posts] here.



Special thanks to Greg for sharing this excellent text!



Greg Goode has been a philosophical counselor since 1996 and has extensive experience with online consultation. As a philosophical counselor, Greg is nationally certified by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, trained by Prof. Lou Marinoff, author of the well-known Plato Not Prozac! and by California State University, Fullerton’s J. Michael Russell —a true pioneer in the philosophical consultation movement.

Greg is a well-known innovator for having combined the ancient “direct-path” method of self-inquiry with modern electronic media. Nondual inquiry includes the powerful teachings of Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism. Greg studied Advaita Vedanta through the Chinmaya Mission, Sri Atmananda, Jean Klein, and Francis Lucille. He studied the Mahayana teachings of Pure Land Buddhism through Jodo-Shinshu, and studied Chinese Middle-Way Buddhism through the lineage of the pre-eminent scholar of Chinese Buddhism, Master Yin-Shun of Taiwan, P.R.C., author of The Way to Buddhahood.

*All text herein copyright Greg Goode, 2007. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this monograph may be reproduced in any manner without prior permission from the author.



**Photos used courtesy of Evan Ludes.

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