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Solipsism

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Photo credit: Seth Anderson

Image: Seth Anderson via Flickr

Solipsism is the philosophical position that only the subject exists and all impressions of others and the outside world are illusory.

Many dismiss solipsism as an extreme or strange view, but others say it is logically impossible to prove or disprove.

If one believes, however, that God is good and, as such, would not deceive a person with a chimerical world peopled by phantom others, one would likely reject solipsism.

Again, some maintain that solipsism cannot be proved or disproved, but there is another way to look at the problem. And this way doesn’t need the idea of God to reject solipsism. Instead, we reject solipsism on the grounds of it being an impractical and bad way of living.

Basically, we can ask: What if solipsism is false? We cannot really know for sure one way or the other. In the face of this uncertainty, doesn’t it make sense to live as if others are real? Isn’t this the best ethical choice, just in case solipsism really is false?

In a way, this echoes Pascal’s Wager, where he believes it best to live as if God were real. Although, again, the above challenge to solipsism does not necessarly rest on the idea of God. It just rests on wanting to do the right thing.¹

Some have likened solipsism to the Asian concept of maya (Sanskrit = illusion, deception).

Maya is the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain belief that the changing, material world isn’t real or is relatively real. But the exact meaning of the concept of maya has been debated among different schools for centuries, making its comparison to solipsism somewhat problematic.²

¹ Some theologians would disagree on this point. They maintain that one can only do the right thing when one’s actions are in line with God’s will. So, God must exist for good actions to occur. See for instance http://www.zondervan.com/five-views-on-apologetics

² For a standard history of the idea, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solipsism

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