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Solipsism

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Marc Guillem Llinàs Siquier (25/06/2020contribution elaborated within the Seminar "A Journey through Philosophy and Information" facilitated by J.M.Díaz at the Hochschule München)

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Abstract: We may consider knowledge as information kept in our mind that helps us facing our daily lives and situations. We all believe our knowledge since it’s been proved either by us or by some source that is giving us a feeling of trust. But, what if we find a belief that states that knowledge is unreal as we can not ensure anything that stays a part from our consciousness? In this article we will have a look in what’s Solipsism and different approaches to the topic.

1.Solipsism

Solipsism is known as a metaphysical belief that states that the subject can only be sure of the existence of his own (and his conscience). The theory lays on the doubt about absolutely everything and the considering that the surrounding reality may be only a product of the mind or a false creation of a motor (also called God). 

Solipsism seems to be irrefutable, since I have a conscious mind and I can not affirm anything that doesn’t have a pillar necessarily based on me (neither other’s mind).

1.1.Origin of Solipsism

This type of reasoning, which may have been present since the beginning of human self-reflective thought, has been boarded many times during the existence of philosophy. 

The appearance of reported solipsism may have been explicitly formulated for the first time as an extreme variant of the relativism of the sophists, which was boarded by Plato (427-347 a. C.) in Postulate of transcendent ideas stating that one who reasons affirms the existence of his neighbours, the need for dialogue and the possible mental communication between men.


1.2.Related to Solipsism

There are other mental experiments related to the theory of solipsism, although in principle different, as well as the Theory of the Brain in Cuvettes by Jonathan Dancy and Hilary Putnam. The belief represents ourselves trapped within a completely unknown reality, so all one thinks is illusionary. The theory states that you do not know that you aren’t a brain suspended in a bucket full of liquid in a laboratory and connected to a computer that feeds you with your current experiences under the control of some ingenious technical scientist (benevolent or evil). Since you were such a brain, assuming the scientist is successful, nothing within your experiences could reveal the reality. You only have your own experiences to trust, and those experiences are the same in any situation. Nothing could show you which of the two situations is the real one. (Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology, 10).


2. Approaches

Solipsism essence is almost impossible to discredit, making itself a very attractive topic which a lot of philosophers have boarded in order to give perspective about the eternal doubting. We will have a look to some of the main approaches of the topic.

2.1. René Descartes 

One of the most famous approaches is the one done by the french philosopher, mathematician and physicist René Descartes (1596- 1650) with the use of the methodical doubt in Meditations on First Philosophy (1641). Descartes goal was to use a methodic skepticism (doubt of everything to arrive to a point in which is not possible to doubt anymore) in order to reach a certain basis from which to develop a renovated and questionless philosophy.


The true is that Descartes found himself surrounded of relatively and put the humanity in the worst of the suppositions appealing to the existence of an evil demon (or God) that is viciously deceiving us. This evil demon is supposed to present a complete delusion of the external world: 

“I shall think that the sky, the air, the earth, colours, shapes, sounds and all external things are merely the delusions of dreams which he has devised to ensnare my judgement. I shall consider myself as not having hands or eyes, or flesh, or blood or senses, but as falsely believing that I have all these things.” 

At this point Descartes did a fundamental change of view considering ideas a useful tool to dispute solipsism. He stated that whether or not we are being deceived by the things that surround us, we have a plenty diversity of ideas that represent everything real. According to that, his greatest idea of all was an infinite and perfect being and this idea could not come from an imperfect being so the only source that could provide me such a good idea is the existence of an infinite and perfect God. Therefore, the universe must be run by a good and powerful God and we can’t be trapped by an evil.”


2.1. Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) will use a different methodology to avoid solipsistic theory; he bets for the common-sense rather than the hypothetical reasoning. Russell states that our experiences come from ordinary and daily living, therefore, our instincts and common-senses are the starting point to our beliefs and logical thinking. We are only gonna be able to discredit an instinct belief if it is not in concordance with other instinct beliefs.

It should be also noted that Russell will be cautious about skeptical scenarios; since he thinks that they are powerful enough that we should feel a slight element of doubt in any judgement we do. But as he states, they are only a possibility that has not to stop humanity to investigate and arrive to true through science.


2.1. Moore

G.E Moore (1873-1958) will also show a concrete and simple perspective against solipsism. As he states, you do not have to prove that God exists to ensure that the outer world is real; you should only look at your hands, your legs or any object surrounding you. They are external objects and therefore external objects are real. If any skeptic comes to doubt about it G.E Moore’s point of view he would only say that it is ridiculous to doubt about common sense, pointing out that daily experience is way more solid than a philosophical argument. 


Conclusion

Solipsism is a reasoning that goes hand in hand with skepticism in order to elevate doubt and disbelief to the peak of reality. The true is that having this theory on mind as a reference, could be a useful tool to implement in our lives against the immense amount of information that surrounds us. It is clear that a dramatic (or methodic) skepticism will only lead us to a conspiracy position, but the use of a modest questioning of our surrounding will be for sure a legit defence against the fluctuations of information.

 

The hypothesis that we are alone in the world and everything is deceiving us is surely very drastic, but what is proven is that we are responsible of the world we see; world is a neutral matter where we project ourselves in some manner. In this line, a different perspective of solipsism may be very realistic, since we were born alone and we will die alone. 


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