Solipsism, or towards a moral framework

Solipsism, image from Angelopoulos' Ulysses Gaze

Scene from Angelopoulos’ Ulysses Gaze | Amazon

After ending one post on solipsism, it seems that some form of qualification is necessary in order for it not to be regarded as paradoxical. A general argument for a solipsist inconsistency is that upon making his (usually his!) statement, the solipsist returns home to his loving wife / children / family. There is, in other words, some paradoxical relation between the statements of a solipsist and his behavior. However, this seems to be an inadequate presentation to the solipsist inconsistency. At its least, the solipsist could simply answer that his family (loved ones) are all part of his imagination, and taking care of them is what his mind asks him to do. So how can we view solipsism as both a framework that does not involve selfishness, but as something fruitful for our being? And can we reach this conclusion without resorting to a paradoxical statement?

Let us assume a simple theoretical example to work with: Person A is a solipsist.

There are several layers of analysis here. To start with, the very idea of being a person is already against the solipsist ‘theory’ (it is hard to call solipsism a theory, but let us for brevity). To this, the solipsist may respond that his personage, again, is part of his solipsist being – his experience as a person is, as everything else, part of his imagination.

Being a solipsist is more problematic. Technically, the solipsist cannot be anything. At best, one would argue, it is his belief that makes him a solipsist. The right theoretical example should therefore read: Person A believes to be a solipsist. Here too, however, the solipsist would answer that beliefs are part of his personal experience and could be mere fragments of his imagination.

We can already detect a certain pattern here. To any question posed to the solipsist, there comes the answer of the solipsist that everything could be part of his imagination. And it indeed could. Especially since the discursive turn (or even with the linguistic turn already?) in philosophy, it is becoming increasingly difficult to deal with the duality between reality and imagination. As some scholars have pointed out, it is not that objective reality ceases to exist altogether; rather, it is the infinite amount of ways to interpret that reality that is problematic for our case (cf. Laclau & Mouffe, you can read the introduction of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy here (pdf)).

So why is it that solipsism can give us a moral framework, and in what way? Isn’t it so that the solipsist necessarily revolves around a paradoxical self-reference, perhaps even an apologetic stance towards responsibility? Certainly! But there is also something one can get from solipsism.

Here the argument is that morally speaking, if there is only me and my world (and my experience and imagination), there is no need to involve the other for an ethical doctrine. ‘Thou should not kill’, etc. no longer apply; as within my moral framework there is no need for ethics. This is perhaps highly problematic; but it also points towards a different understanding of morality. Perhaps naively, I assume that given the possibility not to have rules (i.e. in Wittgensteinian terminology, not knowing which game we are playing – and unlike Wittgenstein, I would posit that we always play a game) there would be no need to abide by a moral code which itself is an invitation to breaking it. ‘Thou should not kill’ creates the fantasy (and only fantasy!) of killing. While this fantasy need not be actualized, it restricts the field into other possibilities. In other words, instead of fantasy of killing – as a resistance to the rule – the fantasy could be occupied by something else. For a solipsist this is a welcoming idea.

Naturally, there are drawbacks to the solipsist moral framework (and hence the title of going towards it). Specifically, the solipsist may not need to fantasize about murder and simply commit it.

In any event, simply stating that solipsism is paradoxical only points to moral restriction on the theoretical framework – and unfortunately, most philosophy is still dominated by moral and political restrictions.

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1 Response

  1. January 8, 2016

    […] Read my previous post on solipsism here. […]

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