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Solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist. The term comes from Latin solus (alone) and ipse (self). Solipsism as an epistemological position holds that knowledgeof anything outside one’s own mind is unsure. The external world and other minds cannot be known, and might not exist outside the mind. As a metaphysical position, solipsism goes further to the conclusion that the world and other minds do not exist. Although the number of individuals sincerely espousing solipsism has been small, it is not uncommon for one philosopher to accuse another’s arguments of entailing solipsism as an unwanted consequence, in a kind of reductio ad absurdum. In the history of philosophy, solipsism has also served as a skeptical hypothesis.

Solipsism (sometimes called egoism), the belief that only one’s self exists, or that only the experiences of one’s self can be verified

Metaphysical solipsism is the “strongest” variety of solipsism. Based on a philosophy of subjective idealism, metaphysical solipsists maintain that the self is the only existing reality and that all other reality, including the external world and other persons, are representations of that self, and have no independent existence.

Epidemiological solipsism is the variety of idealism according to which only the directly accessible mental contents of the solipsistic philosopher can be known. The existence of an external world is regarded as an unresolvable question, or an unnecessary hypothesis rather than actually false.

Epistemological solipsists claim that realism begs the question: assuming there is a universe that is independent of the agent’s mind, the agent can only ever know of this universe through its senses. How is the existence of the independent universe to be scientifically studied? If a person sets up a camera to photograph the moon when they are not looking at it, then at best they determine that there is an image of the moon in the camera when they eventually look at it. Logically, this does not assure that the moon itself (or even the camera) existed at the time the photograph is supposed to have been taken. To establish that it is an image of an independent moon requires many other assumptions that amount to begging the question.

Methodological solipsism may be a sort of weak agnostic (meaning “missing knowledge”) solipsism. It is a consequence of strict epistemological requirements for “Knowledge” (e.g. the requirement that knowledge must be certain). They still entertain the points that any induction is fallible and that we may be brains in vats.

Importantly, they do not intend to conclude that the stronger forms of solipsism are actually true. Methodological solipsists simply emphasize that justifications of an external world must be founded on indisputable facts about their own consciousness. The Methodological solipsist believes that subjective impressions (Empiricism) or innate knowledge (Rationalism) are the sole possible or proper starting point for philosophical construction (Wood, 295). Often methodological solipsism is not held as a belief system, but rather used as a thought experiment to assist skepticism (e.g. Descartes’ cartesian skepticism).

Solipsism syndrome is a dissociative mental state. It is only incidentally related to philosophical solipsism. Solipsists assert that the lack of ability to prove the existence of other minds does not, in itself, cause the psychiatric condition of detachment from reality. The feeling of detachment from reality is unrelated to the question of whether the common-sense universe exists or not.

Would the last person left alive be a solipsist? Not necessarily, because for the solipsist, it is not merely the case that they believe that their thoughts, experiences, and emotions are, as a matter of contingent fact, the only ones that can exist. Rather, the solipsist can attach no meaning to the supposition that there could be thoughts, experiences, and emotions other than their own—that events may occur or objects or people exist independently of the solipsist’s own experiences. In short, the metaphysical solipsist understands the word “pain” [i.e., someone else’s], for example, to mean “one’s own pain”—but this word cannot accordingly be construed to apply in any sense other than this exclusively egocentric, non-empathetic one.

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