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Paul Gerard Horrigan, Ph.D., 2017.

Spinoza’s Substance Monism. The rationalist René Descartes (1596-1650), in his 1644
Principles of Philosophy, I, 51, had erroneously defined substance as “an existent thing which
requires nothing but itself in order to exist.”1 This definition of substance was to prepare the way
for Spinoza’s pantheist monism of substance. Copleston notes that “Descartes defined substance
as ‘an existent thing which requires nothing but itself in order to exist.’2 But this definition, if
understood in a strict and literal sense, applies to God alone. ‘To speak the truth, nothing but God
answers to this description, as being that which is absolutely self-sustaining; for we perceive that
there is no created thing which can exist without being sustained by His power.’3”4 The
rationalist Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) would take the Cartesian definition of substance in the
strict sense to mean an absolutely independent substance and conclude that there really is only
one substance, the Divine Substance God, all finite things or beings (entia) being simply
modifications of this one Substance. This One Substance, God, is, for Spinoza, identified with
Nature (Deus sive Natura). This erroneous position of pantheistic monism is contrary to the
certainties of common sense which affirm the great multitude and variety of substances, things,
concrete beings, existing in the world around us. Spinoza writes that “by substance I understand
that which is in itself and is conceived by itself; in other words, that whose concept does not
need the concept of any other thing from which it must be formed.”5 Copleston explains that, for

R. DESCARTES, De Principiis Philos., I, 51.
R. DESCARTES, Principles of Philosophy, I, 51; A.T., VIII, 24, cf. IX B, 47.
R. DESCARTES, Meditations, 6; A. T. , VII, 89, cf. IX, 71.
F. COPLESTON, A History of Philosophy, book 2, vol. 4, Image Doubleday, New York, 1985, p. 117. Copleston
goes on to write: “But Descartes did not draw the Spinozistic conclusion that there is only one substance, God, and
that all creatures are simply modifications of this one substance. He concluded instead that the word ‘substance’
cannot be predicated in a univocal sense of God and of other beings. He thus proceeds in the opposite way, so to
speak, to that in which the Scholastics proceeded. For while the latter applied the word ‘substance’ first to natural
things, the objects of experience, and then in an analogical sense to God, Descartes applied the word primarily to
God and then secondarily, and analogically, to creatures. This procedure is in accordance with his professed
intention of going from cause to effect rather than the other way round. And though he was by no means a pantheist
himself we can, of course, detect in his manner of proceeding a preliminary stage in the development of the
Spinozistic conception of substance…
“…substance in its application to creatures, we can say that, for Descartes, there are two kinds of substances and
that the word is predicated in a univocal sense of these two classes of things. ‘Created substances, however, whether
corporeal or thinking, may be conceived under this common concept; for they are things which need only the
concurrence of God in order to exist’(Principles of Philosophy, I, 52)…Descartes went on to assign to each kind of
substance a principal attribute which he proceeded to identify to all intents and purposes with the substance itself.
For his way of determining what is the principal attribute of a given type of substance is to ask what it is that we
perceive clearly and distinctly as an indispensable attribute of the thing, so that all other attributes, properties and
qualities are seen to presuppose it and depend upon it. And the conclusion seems to be that we cannot distinguish
between the substance and its principal attribute. They are all intents and purposes identical…for Descartes the
principal attribute of spiritual substance is thinking. And he was prepared to maintain that spiritual substance is in
some sense always thinking…What, then, is the principal attribute of corporeal substance? It must be extension. We
cannot conceive figure or action, for example, without extension; but we can conceive extension without figure or
action. ‘Thus extension in length, breadth and depth constitutes the nature of corporeal substance.’(Op. cit., I,
53).”(F. COPLESTON, op. cit., pp. 117-119).
B. SPINOZA, Ethica, I definition 3.

Spinoza, “that which can be known through itself alone cannot have an external cause.
Substance, then, is what Spinoza calls ‘cause of itself’: it is explained through itself and not by
reference to any external cause. The definition implies, therefore, that substance is completely
self-dependent: it does not depend on any external cause either for its existence or for its
attributes and modifications. To say this is to say that its essence involves its existence. ‘I
understand that to be cause of itself the essence of which involves existence and the nature of
which cannot be conceived except as existing.’6”7 Spinoza erroneously maintains that the One
Substance, God, is Causa Sui. Against this assertion it must be said that non est possibile quod
aliquid sit causa efficiens sui ipsius. God is not causa sui; rather, He is the Uncaused Cause
(conclusion of the secunda via ex ratione causae efficientis). How did Spinoza arrive at such an
erroneous assertion? By “severing the principle of causality from experience and by considering
it as an a priori principle which applies to being as such…The error of rationalism in this matter
is that of identifying cause with ratio: ‘we must look for the cause, that is, the ratio of any given
reality’8 Applying this to God, Descartes asserted that since God is ens a se, He must be causa
sui, in other words, since God’s being is explained from His essence (ratio sui) He can only be
the cause of Himself (causa sui). Spinoza followed the same reasoning: ‘by causa sui, I mean
that whose essence implies its existence.’9 He went on to say that the divine essence is a prius
that connotes existence. Therefore, God is not only ens a se; He is also the Cause of Himself.”10

Guido Berghin-Rosè notes that “nel concetto che abbiamo formato di sostanza non è
affatto incluso il carattere di indipendenza da una causa efficiente o conservatrice, ma soltanto «a
subiecto inhaesionis». Sono quindi arbitrarie le definizioni date da Cartesio e Spinoza, in cui si
confonde l’«ens in se» con l’«ens a se». Descartes: «Substantia est res quae ita existit ut nulla
alia re indigeat ad existendum»(De Principiis Philos., parte I, 51). Spinoza: «Id quod in se est et
per se concipitur esse, hoc est id cuius conceptus non indiget conceptu alterius rei a quo formari
debeat»(Eth., parte I, definiz. 3).

“In queste definizioni identificandosi più o meno esplicitamente la sostanza con l’«ens a
se» (esistente per essenza) che è uno solo, si viene a considerare tutte le cose del mondo come
accidentalità, modi di presentarsi di quest’unica sostanza, ponendosi così la base di una visione
panteistica del universo.11”12

R. P. Phillips observes the following concerning Descartes’ definition of substance, that

“if the definition be taken literally it would ascribe absolute independence to substance; it would
be not only intrinsically independent, that is independent of any subject, but also extrinsically,
and so independent of any cause; so that, as Descartes himself notices, the definition applies,
strictly speaking, only to God. It was in this latter sense that Spinoza took up the Cartesian
definition, making this meaning still more explicit in his own definition: ‘Per substantiam
intelligo id, quod in se est, et per se concipitur: hoc est id, cujus conceptus non indiget conceptu

B. SPINOZA, Ethics Demonstrated According to the Geometrical Order (Ethica ordine geometrico demonstrata),
p. I, definition 1.
F. COPLESTON, op. cit., pp. 214-215.
B. SPINOZA, op. cit., I, prop. 11, aliter.
B. SPINOZA, op. cit., I, d. 1.
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, Metaphysics, Sinag-Tala, Manila, 1991, p. 183.
Base da cui di fatto lo Spinoza con logica perfetta, «more geometrico», dedusse il suo panteismo.
G. BERGHIN-ROSÈ, Elementi di filosofia, vol. 5 (Ontologia), Marietti, Turin, 1961, n. 190, p. 150.

alterius rei, a quo formari debeat.’13 From this he immediately deduces that it is impossible that
one substance should produce another, and consequently that there can be only one substance,
which is necessarily infinite. So he concludes: ‘There does not exist, and it is impossible to
conceive, any substance outside God; and all that exists, exists in God, and nothing can exist or
be conceived without God.’14 …Spinoza’s notion of substance is only possible by an abuse of
abstraction; and is totally divorced from any conception of it which is acceptable to common

For Spinoza Substance Exists Necessarily, is Infinite, is Unique. Three propositions are
deduced by Spinoza from the clear idea of substance, namely, that substance exists necessarily,
that substance is infinite, and that substance is unique: “1) Substance exists necessarily. For
Spinoza, as for Descartes, the clear idea of substance is that of a being which has no need of
another in order to subsist; this is the idea of a perfect being who subsists by Himself. From this
definition of substance, one moves on to the affirmation of its real existence, for the denial of its
existence destroys its definition; to stipulate its definition is to stipulate its real existence.
Besides, since we have an intuition of this definition through the clear idea, which is infallible,
we thus know that substance exists necessarily in reality.

“2) This substance is infinite. It would be repugnant to hold that substance, whose total
definition implies existence through itself, could, in some way, be any sort of ‘non-being.’ But
finite being can be understood only as a sort of ‘non-being’, and as a limitation which is a non-
perfection. It is thus impossible that substance be finite; it is infinite by definition.

“3) This substance is unique. As a matter of fact, a second substance, which would be
distinguishable from the first, is impossible. For to hold this, the first would have to possess a
perfection which the second one would not; in that case, the second substance would involve
some ‘non-being’ and be finite, a situation which would be impossible, since it has been
demonstrated that every substance is infinite.

“This substance, Spinoza concludes, is God, the necessary being, infinite and unique,
simple, immutable, eternal and sovereignly independent.” 16

Spinoza on the Attributes and Modes of the One Substance. Spinoza’s One Substance (the
Spinozian “God”) is constituted of an infinity of attributes, of which only two are known to us,
namely, thought and extension. He defines an attribute as “what the intellect perceives as
constituting the essence of a substance.”17 The finite beings or things that we see around us (i.e.,
a man, a horse, a shark, a frog) are, for him, not substances but rather “modes” (modifications,
accidents18) of the one Divine Substance God,19 “modes by which the attributes of God are

B. SPINOZA, op. cit., I, definition 3.
‘Præter Deum nulla datur neque concipi potest substantia,’ Ethica, Pars I, Prop, XIV; and ‘Quidquid est, in Deo
est, et nihil sine Deo esse neque concipi potest,’ ibid., Prop. XV.
R. P. PHILLIPS, Modern Thomistic Philosophy, vol. 2 (Metaphysics), The Newman Bookshop, Westminster,
MD, 1935, p. 207.
F. J. THONNARD, A Short History of Philosophy, Desclée, Tournai, 1956, p. 540.
B. SPINOZA, op. cit., I, d. 4.
Cf. T. TYN, Metafisica della sostanza, Fede e Cultura, Verona, 2009, p. 340.

expressed in a fixed and definite manner.”20 Spinoza defines mode, stating: “By mode, I
understand the affections of substance, or that which is in another thing, through which also it is
conceived.”21 For Spinoza, “individual things are modes of Substance, that is, affections of
Substance; they are that which exists in some other thing and is conceived through some other
thing. These modes affect Substance according to its different attributes.”22

Spinoza’s “Deus Sive Natura”: God or Nature. For Spinoza, Nature is not separate from
God. For him, Nature is identified with God: Deus sive Natura (God or Nature). Chervin and
Kevane write: “Spinoza, using the traditional word ‘substance’ with a new meaning, forthwith
identifies this one infinite divine Substance with Nature, that is, with this visible cosmos. Hence
the famous phrase Deus sive Natura, which recurs unforgettably in his writings in his careful and
precise Latin. The Latin language has two words for ‘or’: vel, to state that the two terms are
distinct; and sive, to state that they are identical. When Spinoza says ‘God or Nature,’ therefore,
he means that they are one and the same. When he uses the word ‘God,’ as he does constantly, he
does so deceptively, for he means ‘Nature.’ And when he uses the word ‘Nature’ he means what
pantheism calls ‘the Divine.’ This confusion between existing in itself and existing of itself
erases the distinction between the Creator and His creatures, who are indeed independently
existing substantial realities because they have received from Him a participated form of
existence. They exist in themselves as distinct substantial realities. But in Spinoza the doctrine of
creation disappears…The doctrine of the eternity of matter follows as a quick and necessary
corollary. And matter is introduced as an element of God: thus the very concept of God suffers a
reduction to nothingness. For ‘God’ has become only a word. Pantheism is a disguise for

Natura Naturans and Natura Naturata. For Spinoza, Natura naturans is “the Divine
Nature constituted by the attributes and is absolutely simple and immutable, while Natura
naturata is constituted by the modes, which are realities incapable of existing in themselves, but
solely in God and through God. These modes, at least in their inferior degrees, are finite,
multiple and changing, and constitute the particular things of our experience.”24 Natura naturans
(naturing nature) is God the one, infinite, self-dependent, self-determined, and unique Substance
(with its infinite attributes) as the infinite productive activity that produces the world, while
Natura naturata (natured nature) is nature or world considered as a system of infinite and finite
modes, the effects of Natura naturans. Sahakian notes the following concerning Spinoza’s
distinction between the two natures – Natura naturans and Natura naturata – of the One
Substance: “As natura naturans, God is the universal principle, causing the world of nature to
exist, while the particular transitory phenomenal manifestations of nature about us are natura

Man, for Spinoza, would not be “a composition of two finite substances but only of two corresponding modes of
the one divine substance. Spinoza’s answer to the Cartesian dualism of mind-substance and body-substance is to
deny the substantial character of the two terms and to achieve the harmony of mind and body through their mutual
expression of the same substance, even though they do so under different attributes”(J. COLLINS, God in Modern
Philosophy, Gateway Edition, Regnery, Chicago, 1967, p. 75).
B. SPINOZA, op. cit., Prop. XXV, Corollary.
B. SPINOZA, op. cit., I, definition 5.
J. MARIAS, History of Philosophy, Dover, New York, 1967, p. 232.
R. CHERVIN, E. KEVANE, Love of Wisdom, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1988, pp. 222-223.
F.-J. THONNARD, op. cit., p. 542.

naturata.”25 Mascia states that, for Spinoza, “substance and its attributes constitute the Natura
naturans, God. From God conceived of as Natura naturans necessarily proceed, as the unfolding
of God’s very nature, man and the world of things, which Spinoza calls modes or modifications
of the substance of God (Natura naturata). The modes are determinations, temporal and finite
aspects, of the divine attributes, thought and extension. They can be likened to the whitecaps on
the ocean; they appear for a moment, only to be reabsorbed by the same waters that have
produced them. We are thus in the realm of pure monistic-immanentist pantheism, whose terms
are represented by substance, attributes and modes.”26 Reale and Antiseri write: “Dio e mondo,
ovvero ‘natura naturans’ e natura naturata.’ In base a quanto abbiamo spiegato, ciò che Spinoza
intende per Dio è la ‘sostanza’ con i suoi (infiniti) ‘attributi’; il mondo, invece, è dato dai ‘modi,’
da tutti i modi infiniti e finiti. Ma questi non esistono senza quelli; quindi tutto è necessariamente
determinato dalla natura di Dio, e nulla esiste di contingente (come sopra si è già visto) e il
mondo è la necessaria ‘conseguenza’ di Dio.

“Spinoza chiama Dio anche natura naturans, il mondo natura naturata. Natura naturans
è la causa, natura naturata è l’effetto di quella causa, che, però, non è fuori della causa, ma è tale
da mantenere dentro di sé la causa. Si può dire che la causa è immmanente all’oggetto, come
anche, viceversa, che l’oggetto è immanente alla sua causa, stante il principio che ‘tutto è in

“…Quando di dice che Spinoza parla di Deus sive natura, bisogna indubbiamente
intendere che egli pensa a questa equazione: Deus sive natura naturans. Tuttavia, dato che Dio
(e quindi la Natura naturans) è causa immanente e non trascendente, e dato che non esiste altro
che Dio, perché tutto è in Lui, è fuori dubbio che la concezione spinoziana possa essere chiamata
panteistica (= tutto è Dio o manifestazione necessaria di Dio nei modi spiegati).”27

Copleston notes that, for Spinoza, “nature necessarily expresses itself in modifications,
and in this sense Nature is the immanent cause of all its modifications or modes. ‘God is the
indwelling and not the transient cause of all things,’28 for all things exist in God or Nature. But
this does not mean that God exists apart from the modes and can interfere with the chain of finite
causes. The chain of finite causality is the divine causality; for it is the modal expression of
God’s self-determination.

“It is a help, then, towards understanding the drift of Spinoza’s thought if for the word
‘God’ one substitutes the word ‘Nature.’ For example, the sentence, ‘Particular things are
nothing else than modifications of the attributes of God, or modes by which attributes of God are
expressed in a certain and determined manner,’29 becomes clearer if for ‘God’ one reads

W. S. SAHAKIAN, History of Philosophy, Barnes and Noble, New York, 1968, p. 142.
C. MASCIA, A History of Philosophy, St. Anthony Guild Press, Paterson, N.J., 1957, p. 303.
G. REALE and D. ANTISERI, Storia della filosofia, vol. 2 (Dall’Umanesimo a Kant), La Scuola, Brescia, 1997,
pp. 337-338.
B. SPINOZA, op. cit., p. I, prop. 18.
B. SPINOZA, op. cit., p. I, prop. 25, corollary.
F. COPLESTON, op. cit., pp. 221-222.

For Spinoza, Natura naturans is logically and ontologically prior to natura naturata, but
Natura naturans is not one substance distinct from another substance called natura naturata.
Rather, there is only One Substance, but this One Substance, Deus sive Natura, can be looked at
from the point of view of naturing nature or from the point of view of natured nature.

Answer to Spinoza: What is Substance and What are Accidents? Substance is

descriptively defined as that reality to whose essence or nature it is proper to be by itself (esse
per se, or to be in itself [esse in se31]) and not in another subject. There are two basic aspects of
predicamental substance: 1. The substance is the substratum, the subject, that supports the
accidents; and 2. This function of substance is based upon the fact that the substance is the
subsistent. This means that it does not exist in something else but is by itself (or is in itself), not
needing to inhere in another like the accidents do, which need the support of a subject, namely,
the substance, in order to be. A horse, for example, is a substance because, in view of its nature
or essence it is proper to it to subsist in itself (in se), having its own being distinct from the being
of anything else. The weight of this horse, however, doesn’t subsist in itself (in se), but is an
accident that needs to inhere in an existing subject. We say “This hundred and fifty kilo horse.”

An accident is that reality to whose essence it is proper to be in something else, as in its

subject. If what is most characteristic of the substance is subsistence (to subsist), that which is
most characteristic of accidents is to be in another (their being esse in or inesse). Take for
example a cat. The substance here would be the substance cat, while its accidents would be the
various perfections inhering in the substance cat (a substance that, though modified by its
accidents, nevertheless does not change into another substance), accidents such as its shape, size,
colour, fluffiness of its fur, etc.

Critiques of Spinoza’s Pantheist Monism of Substance

Peter Coffey’s Critique of Spinoza’s Pantheistic and Monistic Definition of Substance:

“There is yet another mistaken notion of substance, the notion in which the well known
pantheistic philosophy of Spinoza has had its origin. Spinoza appears to have given the
ambiguous definition of Descartes – ‘Substania est res quae ita existit, ut nulla alia re indigeat
ad existendum’ – an interpretation which narrowed its application down to the Necessary Being;
for he defined substance in the following terms: ‘Per substantiam intelligo id quod est in se et
per se concipitur: hoc est, id cujus conceptus non indiget conceptu alterius rei a quo formari
debeat.’ By the ambiguous phrase, that substance ‘requires no other thing for existing,’ Descartes
certainly meant to convey what has always been understood by the scholastic expression that
substance ‘exists in itself.’ He certainly did not mean that substance is a reality which ‘exists of
itself,’ i.e. that it is what scholastics mean by Ens a se, the Being that has its actuality from its
own essence, by virtue of its very nature, and in absolute independence of all other being; for
such Being is One alone, the Necessary Being, God Himself, whereas Descartes clearly held and
taught the real existence of finite, created substances.32 Yet Spinoza’s definition of substance is

“Esse per se and esse in se, as opposed to esse in alio, have the same signification. Both are correct, if they are
properly understood.”(H. GRENIER, Thomistic Philosophy, vol. 3 (Metaphysics), St. Dunstan’s University,
Charlottetown, 1950, p. 173).
But from Descartes’ doctrine of two passive substances so antithetically opposed to each other the transition to
Spinozism was easy and obvious. If mind and matter are so absolutely opposed as thought and extension, how can

applicable only to such a being that our concept of this being shows forth the actual existence of
the latter as absolutely explained and accounted for by reference to the essence of this being
itself, and independently of any reference to other being. In other words, it applies only to the
Necessary Being. This conception of substance is the starting-point of Spinoza’s pantheistic

“Now, the scholastic definition of substance and Spinoza’s definition embody two
entirely distinct notions. Spinoza’s definition conveys what scholastics mean by the Self-Existent
Being, Ens a se ; and this the scholastics distinguish from caused or created being, ens ab alio.
Both phrases refer formally and primarily, not to the mode of a being’s existence when it does
exist, but to the origin of this existence in relation to the being’s essence; and specifically it
marks the distinction between the Essence that is self-explaining, self-existent, essentially actual
(‘a se’), the Necessary Being, and essences that do not themselves explain or account for their
own actual existence, essences that have not their actual existence from themselves or of
themselves, essences that are in regard to their actual existence contingent or dependent,
essences which, therefore, if they actually exist, can do so only dependently on some other being
whence they have derived this existence (‘ab alio’) and on which they essentially depend for its

“Not the least evil of Spinoza’s definition is the confusion caused by gratuitously
wresting an important philosophical term like substance from its traditional sense and using it
with quite a different meaning; and the same is true in its measure of the other mistaken notions
of substance which we have been examining. By defining substance as an ens in se, or per se
stans, scholastic philosophers mean simply that substance does not depend intrinsically on any
subjective or material cause in which its actuality would be supported; they do not mean to imply
that it does not depend extrinsically on an efficient cause from which it has its actuality and by
which it is conserved in being. They assert that all created substances, no less than all accidents,
have their being ‘ab alio’ from God; that they exist only by the Divine creation and conservation,
and act only by the Divine concursus or concurrence; but while substances and accidents are
both alike dependent on this extrinsic conserving and concurring influence of a Divine,
Transcendent Being, substances are exempt from this other and distinct mode of dependence
which characterizes accidents: intrinsic dependence on a subject in which they have their

they unite to form one human individual in man? If both are purely passive, and if God alone puts into them their
conscious states and their mechanical movements respectively, what remains proper to each but a pure passivity that
would really be common to both? Would it not be more consistent then to refer this thought-essence or receptivity of
conscious activities, and this extension-essence or receptivity of mechanical movements, to God as their proper
source, to regard them as two attributes of His unique and self-existent substance, and thus to regard God as
substantially immanent in all phenomena, and these as only different expressions of His all-pervading essence? This
is what Spinoza did; and his monism in one form or other is the last word of many contemporary philosophers on the
nature of the universe which constitutes the totality of human experience. – Cf. HÖFFDING, Outlines of
Psychology, ch. ii., and criticism of same apud MAHER, Psychology, ch. xxiii.
“Esse substantiæ non dependet ab esse alterius sicut ei inhærens, licet omnia dependeant a Deo sicut a causa

“…By saying that substance exists ‘in itself’ we mean to exclude the notion of its
existing ‘in another’ thing, as an accident does.”34

Charles A. Hart’s Critique of Spinoza’s Pantheist Monism of Substance: “Criticism of

Spinoza. But whether a substance (an ens per se) is also an Ens a Se, that is, a being in whom
existence is intrinsic and proper to its nature or essence, will be quite a distinct problem from that
of the constitution or nature of substance as such. It will involve the question as to whether the
substance or essence is in potency to an act of to be received into this substance (and thus at the
same time a principle of limitation and therefore multiplication), or whether it is a substance or
essence identical with its act of to be (and therefore not a principle of limitation and
multiplication). The substances of our immediate experience are all of the former character,
namely, principles of limitation. This accounts for their multitude. They are therefore finite
predicamental substances.

“They also point to the necessity of inferring the existence of a substance which is not a
principle of limitation but is identical with its act of to be and without which the limited
substances could not exist, since they must receive their respective acts of to be which are not
intrinsic to their substances, if they are to exist at all. This substance which does not limit its act
of to be and whose existence must be inferred is therefore not only a being existing in itself (ens
per se), but it is also a Being that exists of itself (Ens a Se). This however is not necessarily a
note of substance as such. Its demand for existence in itself may be met either by caused or
uncaused being. Its substantiality as such does not include the question of the source of existence
in itself. Every substance requires that it exist in itself. Only Infinite Substance also exists of
itself; that is, only the Infinite Substance is necessarily Self-Existing. What makes all this clear
and permits a sound doctrine of substance which involves no such error as the pantheism of
Spinoza is the understanding of the real distinction of essence and act of being in all beings of
our experience, that is, their participated character. It is this principle which permits Thomism to
anticipate and refute the error of the substantialistic pantheism of Spinoza, in whose philosophy
no such insight into the true nature of being is possible.”35

Bernard Boedder, S.J.’s Critique of Pantheist Monism: “The world and its component
elements are not affections of the Divine Substance and inherent in it, but are altogether distinct
from it. Pantheism, therefore, is repugnant to reason.

“This assertion is directed against the pantheists or monists, who maintain that the
assemblage of things which we call the world is really the one Divine Absolute Being under
various aspects; these aspects they are pleased to call sometimes moments, sometimes
determinations, sometimes modes…

“Critique of Total Pantheism. The attributes of the First Being, demonstrated by us in the
preceding theses, compared with our external and internal experience, forbid us to admit that the
same being is really common to God and to the things of the world.

P. COFFEY, Ontology, Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1926, pp. 230-232.
C. HART, Thomistic Metaphysics, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1959, p. 194.

“We have seen that the First Being, called God, is one undivided essence, in no way
composed of parts, and that He unites all perfections in the identity of His unchangeable
existence. On the other hand, external and internal experience bear witness to the fact that the
world round about us, and human beings themselves, form not really one undivided substance,
but many separate individuals, each complete in its own being, differing from and not seldom
opposed to one another in natural or voluntary tendencies. Is it not ridiculous to say that a cat is
the same real being with the mouse which she devours, and with the dog that worries her, and
that cat and dog alike are the same being with the master who with his hands restores peace
between them? Is it not absurd to maintain that the depraved criminal that is sentenced is really
the same being with the Judge who pronounces sentence against him? And who can accept the
statement that the atheist is substantially the same Being with God, whose existence he denies
and whose name he blasphemes?

“Moreover, experience tells us that there is nothing in the material world known to man
which is not either composed of parts, or a part itself; and that, consequently, nothing is complete
and perfect in its simplicity. How then can this world be really one Being with God, of whom we
have proved that He is in the highest degree simple?

“Finally, reason based on experience teaches us that the purely corporeal world lacks
altogether the faculties of understanding and free-will, and that these faculties, even in the most
gifted of the human race, are in a state of imperfection and perfectibility. It is therefore
absolutely impossible that either the corporeal or the spiritual world known to men should be one
with God, who, as we have proved, is infinitely perfect, and therefore under all aspects with
defect, and incapable of evolving new perfections or new modes of perfection in His own

John F. McCormick, S.J.’s Critique of Pantheism: “General Criticism of Pantheism. In

opposition to Pantheism in any of its forms it must be argued in the first place that it contradicts
experience in identifying the One with the many. Our experience surely shows us the ‘otherness’
of things outside ourselves, and of minds outside our minds. If ‘otherness’ is manifested in no
other way, it should be apparent in the conflict of minds that makes up human history. And then
there is the obstinacy with which nature resists our will, so that even the conquests we make of
nature are made at the cost of conforming to nature’s way of doing. Surely the One should be at
one with itself, and we cannot attribute all this opposition and strife to it.

“Again, Pantheism is found to be in opposition to reason in many fundamental ways. It

must predicate of the One the contradictory attributes of finite and infinite. The One must be
infinite, for it is the sum of all reality, and yet it must be at the same time finite as the subject of
all the limitations of all the things that make up reality. It must be immutable if it is infinite; and
yet it must be subject to all the changes in nature. It must be inextended and extended; intelligent
and irrational; living and non-living.

“Furthermore, Pantheism takes all meaning out of morality by taking all meaning out of
personal identity. All our actions can be nothing else than manifestations of the activity of the

B. BOEDDER, Natural Theology, Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1927, pp. 112-115.

One. All of them, therefore, must be equally necessary, and consequently all must be equally

“Pantheism removes one of the great safeguards of morality by making personal

immorality meaningless. If the human individual is not a distinct reality, there can be no meaning
attached to the idea of a personal survival after death. Immortality can be no more than a re-
absorption into the undifferentiated unity of the One. There could be left no individual feeling or
consciousness, and consequently if any being is aware of any untoward results of evil actions
done in the present life, that being can be only the One. Such evil results would certainly be no
concern of ours as individuals after our individual consciousness has been re-absorbed into what
James calls ‘the mother-sea of consciousness.’

“…Pantheism in identifying God with the world, leads some of its adherents to the
question: ‘If the world is everything, why call it God? The only story the world tells us of itself,
is the story of material atoms and mechanical relations. Is not the idea of God, therefore, wholly
illusory? – The Problems of Philosophy, p. 77.”37

Henri Grenier’s Critique of Pantheism: “Pantheism, in general, is the name given to any
system that identifies God and the world…Pantheism is either partial (semipantheism) or total
(monism). Partial pantheism teaches that God is a part of the world…Total pantheism, i.e.,
monism, teaches that God is the whole of the world.

“Critique of Pantheism. God is entirely distinct from the world. 1. Being which is
infinite, simple, immutable, all-perfect, necessary, and unique is entirely distinct from being
which is neither infinite, nor simple, nor immutable, nor all-perfect, nor necessary, nor unique.
But God is a being which is infinite, simple, immutable, all-perfect, necessary, and unique; the
world, on the other hand, is neither infinite, nor simple, nor immutable, nor all-perfect, nor
necessary, nor unique. Therefore God is entirely distinct from the world.

“Major. – Infinite being cannot be finite being, nor can it be either its formal or material
part, nor can it have esse in common with it, because the act of being (esse) of finite beings is
received into its essence as into a distinct potency, whereas the esse of infinite being is subsisting

“Minor. – God is subsisting being, and thefore is infinite, simple, immutable, all-perfect,
necessary and unique; but the world, since it is composed of beings whose act of being (esse) is
distinct their essence, is finite, composite, mutable, imperfect, contingent, and not unique.

“2. Pantheism is opposed to the testimony of conscience by which each one perceives
that he is a substance distinct from others; and it is subversive of the moral order, because it
leads to the denial of personality, liberty, and the immortality of a personal soul. Therefore we
must reject pantheism, and must affirm that God is a being entirely distinct from the world.”38

J. F. McCORMICK, Scholastic Metaphysics, vol. 2 (Natural Theology), Loyola University Press, Chicago, 1943,
pp. 193-194
H. GRENIER, Thomistic Philosophy, vol. 3 (Metaphysics), St. Dunstan’s University, Charlottetown, 1950, pp.

J. A. McWilliams, S.J.’s Critique of Pantheism: “Pantheism contradicts both reason and
experience. Reason and experience demonstrate nothing more clearly than the plurality of
beings; but Pantheism denies the plurality of beings; therefore Pantheism contradicts both reason
and experience.

“Each of us is conscious that he is distinct from the world about him. A prisoner in a cell
is aware that he is not imposing confinement on himself. A pugilist in the ring cannot think that
his opponent is none other than himself, and that it is exactly the same thing to receive a blow as
to deliver one. To shave one’s self is a different thing from having the barber do it. When the
dentist pulls my tooth, I know that the patient and the agent are not one. When a rough sea tosses
me about, I am quite sure that there is something besides myself in existence. Moreover, some
actions are to my knowledge decidedly my own; as for instance when I hold my breath. If I
cannot know these things, there is nothing I can know.

“2. The world revealed to me by my external senses is clearly made up of a plurality of

things. Man has intelligence; brutes have life without intelligence; plants have life without
sensation; the rest of the material world has no life at all. Who can tell me that all these things
are one, without asking me to abandon reason?”39

Kenneth Dougherty’s Critique of Pantheism: “Pantheism is against reason and

experience, and on these grounds we assert that it is to be rejected.

“The mobile cosmos can never be identified with Immobile Being, Pure Act, God; But
Pantheism identifies the mobile cosmos with Immobile Being, Pure Act, God; Therefore,
Pantheism must be rejected.

“Major: Evident from Theodicy. The cosmos of mobile beings considered in itself is not
the Immobile Being, the necessary Divine Being – rather its mobility depends upon the latter.
God is called immobile not because of the immobility of inertia but because He is supreme
actuality or perfection. The mobile can never be self-sufficient or ultimate in that mobility
connotes potency and act, as we have seen. The mobile lacks sufficient reason for its being
exactly because it contains potency; it is not purely act, perfection, reality. Hence, the mobile is
imperfect, insufficient, and cannot be identified with the perfect, the self-sufficient, the Immobile
Being, Pure Act. The infinite multiplication of the mobile does not change its nature of
insufficiency precisely because it is mobile.

“Minor. Evident from the exposition of pantheism, which either totally or partially
identifies the cosmos and God, Who is the Immobile Being, Pure Act. Pantheism does not
adequately define God and the cosmos. If fails to comprehend God as Pure Act because it fails to
understand actuality itself. It fails to comprehend the mobile cosmos in terms of the dualism of
potency and act because of its monistic tendency to view the cosmos either as purely fieristic,
undetermined, potential, or as purely static, and determined…”40

J. A. McWIILIAMS, Cosmology, Macmillan, New York, 1937, pp. 51-52.
K. DOUGHERTY, Cosmology, Graymoor Press, Peekskill, New York, 1956, pp. 142-143.