Solipsism & The Problem of Other Minds

14Mar08

The ‘Problem of Other Minds’ is an epistemological problem.

It is based on the difference between the way we experience our own selves and the way we experience the selves of others. Consider the kinds of mental states that we have ourselves such as beliefs, desires, emotions and feelings.We have direct access to these for ourselves and not for others, but we nonetheless believe that others have these states. Thus, the skeptical objection arises: for the skeptic, we have no epistemological basis for the kinds of knowledge claim that this involves.

We do not really doubt that other people have minds on a day-to-day basis, but the philosophically interesting question arises from the fact that we are not able to justify this belief. Why don’t we entertain thoughts of solipsism? Solipsism (from the Latin ipse = “self” and solus = “alone”) is an extreme form of skepticism, saying that nothing exists beyond oneself and one’s immediate experiences. More generally, it is the epistemological belief that one’s self is the only thing that can be known with certainty and verified (sometimes called egoism).We can understand this philosophical problem as arising from Descartes’ theory of consciousness. The cogito that he advances as the indutiable foundation of truth is a solitary consciousness, res cogitans. For Descartes – as for Berkeley – the external world and other minds are ultimately known only through the benevolence of God, but if we find this argument weak then how can we escape the solipsistic trap of Cartesian skepticism?

It can be contended that empiricist philosophers who accept a broadly Cartesian account of consciousness run the risk of solipsism if they cannot find a way to justify belief in the minds of others.

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2 Responses to “Solipsism & The Problem of Other Minds”

  1. 1 The Dude

    Damn Descartes caused SO MANY problems for people. Solipsism is philosophically bankrupt. When taken seriously, it evaporates into Realism anyway.

  2. How can it be that it causes us a problem if, as soon as we ‘take it seriously’, it ‘evaporates’?


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