This is a fairly easy concept to grasp on the surface, but looking deeper it can cause some real dilemmas.
Dictionary.com defines solopsism (within a philosophical context) as the theory that only the self exists or only the self’s existence can be proved. Throughout the history of philosophy in the West this has been an extreme belief help by few people. In the west, the origins of this thinking starts where most thinking does, with the Ancient Greeks.
A famous, Ancient Greek solipsist was Gorgias; Plato wrote a dialogue between Socrates and Gorgias which explores some of Gorgias’ assumptions of life. The three, philosophical problems which Gorgias placed before mankind to this day are among the most difficult and challenging for a philosopher to explore. He proposed that:
1) Nothing exists.
2) If something exists, it cannot be known.
3) If something exists and it can be known, it cannot be communicated.
Basically this lays out the basic problems of metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language all struggle with.
Gorgias believed in his own existence and nothing else. With most people, a red flag goes up in their mind somewhere and they go, “what the fuck? how does that work?” I hope anyone reading this has this problem. I do believe that all three qualms that Gorgias raised are to be taken seriously, however, let’s go with the assumption that you believe you are really the only thing which exists. Why then should I even finish writing this blog entry? It’s so real a problem because it poses practical difficulties, not something abstract. Think about this: if you believed truly and fully that you were the only person who existed, how would you live your life? How would you treat others; who, though we don’t know what they are, we know what they are not and what they are not is real. The whole branch of philosophy dedicated to ethics seems to crumble into meaningless ramblings (not that that would be new. haha).
Since, Gorgias’ time we’ve had many extreme skeptics come our way such as Descartes with his famous cogito ergo sum and that great Scotsman Hume. Hume (heavily influenced by John Locke and Bishop Berkeley, two empiricists) would spend hours in his study “doing philosophy” and like Gorgias he thought people took too much for granted when it comes to what exists and what are reliable means of discovering what is real. He criticized pure reason and the experience of the senses as being not definitive enough or bring us closer to certainty on their own. However, Hume did separate “doing philosophy” with living a normal life; he would go play sports and eat just like anyone else. He was considered a hypocrite by some for denying that humans can directly know anything exists and yet would live his life the same as most. A last note on Hume, he isn’t considered to be a solipsist techinically I think, but he has plenty in common with them, so I tossed him in this blog.
Personally, I can see both sides. Let’s say you’re a solipsist or extreme skeptic of some sort and you believe on you exist. Ok, you’ve made that decision… now what? Honestly, nothing would practically change. Any change that would come about would have to be you choosing to change how you live. However, if you are content with life as it is and you come to adopt a solipsist perspective, compartmentilizing your life seems like the only thing you can do to live a normal life. Nothing really changes if you adopt a solipsist perspective because no matter what you do in the world, you don’t believe in it’s existence and you cannot dislodge yourself from the illusionary world we are a part of. So, I can see where someone in pursuit of truth may end up a solipsist, but there is no real point to changing anything about yourself if you’re comfortable.
There are very few solipsists or skeptics (in the philosophical sense) in the world. Just consider how many people are religious; even though the number of non-religious persons is growing, that group is definitely a minority. However…
Solipsism is a perspective that does not have much allure, but will always shake the very foundations of philosophy.