On the Common Sense Argument for Monism

Tuomas Tahko, Donnchadh O'conaill

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


The priority monist holds that the cosmos is the only fundamental object, of which every other concrete object is a dependent part. One major argument against monism goes back to Russell, who claimed that pluralism is favoured by common sense. However, Jonathan Schaffer turns this argument on its head and uses it to defend priority monism. He suggests that common sense holds that the cosmos is a whole, of which ordinary physical objects are arbitrary portions, and that arbitrary portions depend for their existence on the existence of the whole. In this paper, we challenge Schaffer’s claim that the parts of the cosmos are all arbitrary portions. We suggest that there is a way of carving up the universe such that at least some of its parts are not arbitrary. We offer two arguments in support of this claim. First, we shall outline semantic reasons in its favour: in order to accept that empirical judgements are made true or false by the way the world is, one must accept that the cosmos includes parts whose existence is not arbitrary. Second, we offer an ontological argument: in order for macro-physical phenomena to exist, there must be some micro-physical order which they depend upon, and this order must itself be non-arbitrary. We conclude that Schaffer’s common sense argument for monism cannot be made to work.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSpinoza on Monism
EditorsPhilip Goff
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Print)9780230279483
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • monism
  • common sense
  • priority


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