As a concept, dualism refers to the existence and interaction of two different, and often opposing, elements. This can be the relationship and interaction between the mind and the body, the connection between the body and the soul, or the balance between good and evil, just to name a few. Classical dualism holds at its core the idea that part of being human – literally, part of a person’s very humanity – is their ability to understand the balance and interaction between these two forces and to successfully navigate their integration with one’s society and culture.
Over time, different theorists focused on different aspects of dualism. Pythagoras, for example, argued that providing for one’s soul was more important than providing for one’s body; while both need a minimum of provisions to survive, the most successful individuals were those who took advantage of opportunities to expand their spiritual being rather than their physical being. Aristotle, in contrast, focused more on the purpose of various actions; he believed that all individuals needed to ensure their actions were perpetually for the good. What met the criteria to be “good,” however, was solely at the discretion of the individual. It is man’s responsibility, he argued, to understand what comprised good works and whether or not one’s actions worked in that interest. Striking a balance between selfish and generosity, between pleasure and restraint, are all critical elements of classical dualism, as both sides of a given coin must exist together, but always in a state of equilibrium.