Acosmism, in contrast to pantheism, denies the reality of the universe, seeing it as ultimately illusory, (the prefix "a-" in Greek meaning negation; like "un-" in English), and only the infinite unmanifest Absolute as real.
This philosophy begins with the premise that there is only one real thing, and it is infinite, and non-dual; The Absolute. But the phenomenal reality of which we are normally aware is just the opposite: finite, and dualistic. And since the Absolute is the only reality, that means that everything that is not-Absolute cannot be real. Thus, according to this viewpoint, the phenomenal dualistic world is ultimately an illusion (maya to use the technical Indian term), irrespective of the apparent reality it possesses at the mundane or empirical level.
Acosmic monistic spiritual practice emphasizes attaining the Absolute through a kind of intellectual or conceptual realization. This may involve holding the thought that "I am that" (the Absolute), as in the philosophy of the Advaita Vedanta school and its recent advocates; or alternatively through a standing back and simply watching the thoughts and sensations arise and pass away; realizing all the time that they are not a part of one's true Self. Both these approaches are termed the path of jnana ("knowledge").
Indian philosophies were and are concerned not so much with the manifest reality we see about us, but with the unmanifest Transcendent Absolute. What matters is simply the practical attainment of a state of this universal, transcendent, transpersonal existence. In that state, according to Adi Shankara, there is no difference between Self and God; there is only the Absolute (Brahman).
Acosmism in Western philosophy
Acosmism has been seen in the work of a number of Western philosophers, including Parmenides, Plato, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and British and American idealists, such as F.H. Bradley. The word acosmism is often traced to Hegel who used it in his discussion of the philosophy of religion, in particular his understanding of pantheism and refutation of the charge that Spinoza was an atheist. Hegel explains that for Spinoza it is the infinite 'substance' which is real, while the finite world doesn't exist. "But the accusers of Spinozism are unable to liberate themselves from the finite; hence they declare for Spinozism everything is God, because it is precisely the aggregate of finitudes (the world) that has there disappeared. If one employs the expression "All is One" and [claims] therefore that unity is the truth of multiplicity, then the "all" simply is no longer. The multiplicity vanishes, for it has its truth in the unity." W.T. Stace sees all philosophical acosmism as rooted in the mystical experience, whether or not the authors are aware of this. Stace points out that most Western philosophers tend to a form of qualified acosmism, where the world is less real rather than utterly illusory. He sees two mystical sources of acosmism from within the eternal moment, firstly the mystical moment contains all eternity and infinity and thus there is nothing out side it, and secondly because the eternal moment is experienced as the supreme value.
- Anatta (Belief that there is no self)
- Buddhist atomism
- Christian Science
- Maya (Cosmic illusion)
- Mereological nihilism
- New thought
- Simulated reality
- Stace, W.T. (1952). Time and Eternity, Princeton University Press. p.122.
- Nicholson, Hugh. (2011) Comparative Theology and the Problem of Religious Rivalry, OUP. p.118
- OED Acosmism entry.
- Inwood, M.J. (2002) Hegel, Psychology Press. ISBN 9780415277198. pp.232-233
- Beiser, Frederick. (2005). Hegel, Routledge. ISBN 9781134383924. pp.143-144
- Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hodgson, Peter C. Ed. (2006) Hegel: Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion: One-Volume Edition, The Lectures of 1827, OUP. ISBN 9780199283521. pp.28-29 & 123-126
- Stace. (1952) p.123-127