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Metaphysical solipsism is the variety of idealism which asserts that nothing exists externally to this one mind, and since this mind is the whole of reality then the "external world" was never anything more than an idea. It can also be expressed by the assertion "there is nothing external to these present experiences", in other words, no reality exists beyond whatever is presently being sensed. The aforementioned definition of solipsism entails the non-existence of anything presently unperceived including the external world, causation, other minds (including God's mind or a subconscious mind), the past or future, and a subject of experience. Despite their ontological non-existence, these entities may nonetheless be said to "exist" as useful descriptions of the various experiences and thoughts that constitute 'this' mind. The solipsistic self is described by Wittgenstein in the Tractatus: "The self of solipsism shrinks to a point without extension and there remains the reality coordinated with it" (TLP 5.64).
There are weaker versions of metaphysical solipsism, such as Caspar Hare's egocentric presentism (or perspectival realism), 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.
Arguments in favour of Solipsism
The argument in favor of Solipsism:
(a) The only thing one has direct access to is the contents of one's own mind (one's mental states). What one knows most certainly are one's mental states - one's thoughts, experiences, emotions, and so on.
(b) Just because one sees an object does not mean that the object exists. One could be dreaming or hallucinating. There is no direct conceptual or logically necessary link between the mental and the physical.
(c) The experiences of a given person are necessarily private to that person. The contents of one's mind are the only things one has direct access to. One cannot get ‘outside’ of one's mind to encounter any other objects including other persons. Other minds are even more removed.
The basic form of the argument:
- My mental states are the only things I have access to.
- I cannot conclude the existence of anything outside of my mental states.
- Therefore, only my mental states exist.
"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 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
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 were no others. Coming from a logician, this surprised me. The fact that I cannot believe something does not prove that it is false, but it does prove that I am insincere and frivolous if I pretend to believe it." (Russell, p. 180).
The basic argument for solipsism suffers a logical error as well. It is argued that, because the mind can not conclude the existence of anything external, therefore nothing external exists. But this conclusion does not follow, only that the existence of externalities can not be known. It is just as logically consistent that there are external realities/minds/etc. as there are not, when experience can not be verified either true or false.
- Actual idealism
- Brain in a vat
- Cartesian skepticism
- Epistemological solipsism
- Methodological solipsism
- Angeles, Peter A. (1992), Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd edition, Harper Perennial, New York, NY.
- Runes, Dagobert D. (ed.), Dictionary of Philosophy, Littlefield, Adams, and Company, Totowa, NJ, 1962.
- Russell, B., Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1948.
- Wood, Ledger (1962), "Solipsism", p. 295 in Runes (ed.), Dictionary of Philosophy, Littlefield, Adams, and Company, Totowa, NJ.