Solipsism

Metaphysical solipsism definition

Metaphysical solipsism is the variety of idealism which is based on the argument that no reality exists other than one’s own mind or mental state and that the individual mind is the whole of reality and the external world is nothing but a projection of one’s own self which id philosophically quite untenable. It makes genuine communication with others impossible, since each individual is bound, from the solipsist perspective, to consider others as non existent entities.

As a result, full blown solipsism has hardly ever been adopted by a philosophical school. Solipsism limits reality, but also knowledge of that reality to one’s own self. Accordingly, it is used for two related yet distinct concepts

  • A metaphysical belief that the universe is entirely creation of one’s own mind. Thus, in a sense, the belief that nothing ‘exists’ outside of one’s own mind.
  • An epistemological position that one’s own perceptions are the only things that can be known with certainty. The nature of the external world – that is, the source of one’s perceptions – therefore cannot be conclusively known; it may not even exist. This is also external world skepticism.

When did metaphysical solipsism begin?

Solipsism was first recorded by the Greek presocratic sophist, Georgias who is quoted by the Roman sceptic Sextus Empiricus as having stated  Nothing exists. Even if something exists,  nothing can be known about it. Even if something could be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others. The first known use of solipsism is in 1836.

Who invented metaphysical solipsism?

Solipsism is of importance to philosophy and psychology. Rene Descartes (1596-1650) the French mathematician, physicist and “father of modern philosophy”, made solipsism a central issue in philosophy.

The solipsistic self is described by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus , “The self of solipsism shrinks to a point without extension and there remains the reality co-ordinated with it”. There are weaker versions of metaphysical solipsism, such as Caspar Hare’s egocentric presentism , in which other persons are conscious but their experiences are simply not present. Similarly, J.J Valberg develops a concept of one’s personal horizon and discusses how it is in a sense the (preeminent) horizon, stating that “we are all solipsists” in his sense of solipsism.

Metaphysical solipsism argument

Solipsism has an inherent contradiction, which if true, disproves it is not disprovable. The argument in favour of solipsism is

  • The only thing one has direct access to is the contents of one’s own mind. What one knows most certainly are one’s mental state – one’s thoughts, experiences, emotions and etc.
  • Just because one sees an object does not mean that the objects exist. One could be dreaming or hallucinating. There is no direct conceptual or logically necessary link between the mental and the physical.
  • The experiences of a given person are necessarily private to that person. The contents of one’s mind is the only things one has direct access to. One cannot get ‘outside’ of one’s mind to encounter any other objects including other persons.

Similar philosophy is found in Hindu religion, namely drishti-shristi-vada. In teachings of Ramana Maharshi there are too cues on solipsism

Jiva is called so because he sees the world. A dreamer sees many jivas in a dream, but all of them are not real. The dreamer alone exists and he sees it all. So it is with the individual and the world. There is the creed of only one Self, which is also called the creed of only one jiva. It says that the jiva is the only one who sees the whole world and the jivas therein”.

Arguments against Solipsism

Bertrand Russell wrote  “The most logically consistent theories are unbelievable and the most believable theories are inconsistent.” (Mysticism and Logic by Bertrand Russell).

One reason for the lack of support of this philosophical position is how strange it would be for a solipsist to preach solipsism – as if to convince everyone around them that they are purely a figment of the author’s own imagination. The very idea of communicating philosophical ideas would be arbitrary to a true solipsist, as according to them there is no other mind with whom they would communicate their beliefs.

Russell commented on the same theme

“As against solipsism it is to be said, in the first place, that it is psychologically impossible to believe, and is rejected in fact even by those who mean to accept it. I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there are no others. Coming from a logician and a solipsist her surprise has amazed me”.

Metaphysical solipsism example

Solipsism comes from the Latin words for alone (sol) and self (ipse) and means that only the self is real. In metaphysical solipsism your mind is the only thing that’s real and everything else is just a representation. In epistemological solipsism, there might be a world outside your mind which you could detect with your sense, but it’s impossible to prove. In methodological solipsism, the self is the only proper starting point for exploring the nature of reality.

Examples

  • It strikes me, in my middle class solipsism, that there is gross improvidence in some of these arrangements – Nickel and Dimed On (Not) Getting By in America
  • I had it in my mind that she’d grown up spending four hours a day in front of the mirror, narcissism to the point of solipsism – Burning Blue
  • Let’s not spend the next four years in a comfortable stupor of solipsism – The Guardian
  • But ‘Red’ does manage to build tension between the two characters as Rothko’s windy solipsism gets under the skin of his assistant – New York Times

Opposite of metaphysical solipsism  

Externism is a fictional philosophical theory proposed by the fictional Czech genius Jara Cimrman. This epistemological theory contradicts the traditional theory of solipsism.

Opposite of solipsism

Objectivity omniscience

Selflessness self sacrifice

Community companionship

Intimacy teamwork

Togetherness impartiality

Refute metaphysical solipsism  

Solipsism is the view that I am the only entity to whom it is justifiable to ascribe existence. This is based on the fact that this entire world, as it appears, is in truth only a representation in the consciousness, and hence only exists in me. If I refer to observation for justification, I find that the critical condition for any observation is my consciousness and nobody else’s. I must always infer that other humans are aware as I am, but never have any direct experiential evidence for this.

This assumes that being aware is a property of humans, just as speech, for example, property of humans. A solipsist would hold that this assumption is groundless. He would assert that while speech is, in fact a phenomenon exhibited by humans that have been observed by us, awareness, or consciousness, is not.

The only consciousness we have been experientially confronted with is our own, that is my own. The War of Metaphysics has many conflicting militias, but generally, the divide is as follows. Realism vs. Idealism realism is the view that the world exist absolutely and independently of any conscious being. Idealism is the view that the world is conditioned by, and hence contingent upon, conscious being.

Solipsism is perhaps the purest idealistic doctrine since it reduces the entire universe to a subject/object relationship, and in particular one in which there is only one subject. Realism is clearly an enemy of solipsism for if the world truly did exist absolutely and independently of consciousness, this would imply that consciousness is merely an emergent phenomenon supervening on physical states, in other words, function of brain and hence that any entity possessing a brain would necessarily also possess consciousness.

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