Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Short Note on Solipsism and the Principle of Sufficient Reason


I have recently had a very interesting epistemological observation that I would like to run by everybody. Whether said observation has any real weight is an important question in itself and I would love to hear your thoughts.

But first, let us briefly define some terms. Solipsism, roughly speaking, is the view that I myself (of course, the reader substitutes him or herself) am the only entity that really exists, everything else that appears to exist is really just a figment of my imagination. If you are interested in learning more about Solipsism, you can do so here.

To succinctly define the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR), we turn to the excellent Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosphy article on the subject (to which the reader is also referred). The article defines the PSR as the idea that: "For every fact F, there must be a sufficient reason why F is the case." Expressed differently, there is no fact F such that there is not a sufficient reason why F is the case. The PSR thus rejects totally the possibility of the existence of so-called Brute Facts, which is philosophical parlance for facts without an explanation.

So to move on to the observation in question, let us further explicate exactly what the solipsist is saying. To wit, the solipsist is stating that prior to my existence (if it is even proper to use this phrase), there existed absolutely nothing at all. Then I I literally came into existence out of nothing, and I will be the only thing that ever exists. After my death, the black void from before my existence will return.

Now, if I accept the PSR, it will only be natural for me to ask: 'What is the explanation for my existence?' It certainly cannot be anything to do with myself, both because I cannot bring myself into existence, and because I am not a necessary being (meaning that my nature does not provide an explanation for my existence). It cannot be any sort of materialistic explanation such as a quantum vacuum, because if you will recall, a quantum vacuum is just a figment of my imagination. And it certainly cannot be any traditionally theological explanation, such as a God, since nothing exists apart from me.

So if it is not already immediately clear, I am very quickly lead to the conclusion that there is no sufficient reason for my existence and that my existence under solipsism must be considered as a brute fact. But if the PSR is true, then there can be no brute facts. Therefore, if the PSR is true, then solipsism is false.

But does this argument lead to any stronger conclusions? Does it, for example, lead us to the existence of other minds? As far as I can see, it does not. All the argument can demonstrate on it's own is the existence of at least one other thing apart from me; namely, whatever it is that provides the sufficient reason for my existence. Of course, an obvious possibility for this is a God of some sort, but there might be a necessarily existing material object of some kind that does the job (though I am doubtful of this).

But of course, this argument crucially depends upon the PSR, which it must be said has been highly controversial among philosophers. Defending the PSR, however, is a topic best left for another occasion.

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