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As solipsism ( Latin solus , alone ' and ipse , self' ) is in the philosophy called the theory that only the self I exist. A common starting point for such concerns is the belief that it is impossible to be certain about a reality outside of one's own consciousness.


The term solipsism is used in different senses in philosophy, including for theses of the following kind:

  • metaphysical solipsism: only the self exists. Nothing outside of one's own consciousness exists, including no other consciousness.
  • methodological solipsism: the meaning of conceptualized terms depends solely on the states of consciousness of the thinking subject. The term "methodological solipsism" is used in the philosophy of mind , it was coined by Hilary Putnam in his work The Meaning of Meaning . In this context, solipsism plays an important role in the discussion of externalism and internalism .
  • Epistemological solipsism is related to the first two points . According to this doctrine, our knowledge of the outside world is dependent on our respective mental states.
  • Ethical solipsism or “egoism”: It is rational to judge and orientate one's own actions only to the fact that one's own preferences (such as one's own physical well-being, etc.) are met as far as possible (and not to take into account the preferences of others at all).

These different types of solipsism were and are still developed, defended and attacked by other philosophers with different and differently weighted topics.

Concept history

In the 19th century the term "solipsism" was used roughly synonymous with "selfishness". What is mostly called “metaphysical solipsism” today (nothing exists except one's own consciousness) was mostly called “(logical) egoism”. Such a position is described by Johann Burkhard Mencke : The "Egoistas" would represent:

“Quod soli sint in mundo, cetera omnia tantum in ipsorum cogitationibus existant”

"That they are the only ones in the world, any other would only exist in their own thoughts"

Mencke's report is based on a Jesuit polemic, which was directed against the positions of Descartes , George Berkeley and their students.

History of ideas


According to Cartesianism , there are only two kinds of beings: consciousness ( res cogitans ) and material objects ( res extensa ). Only the existence of one's own thinking self is epistemologically certain. Beyond that, we are only given consciousness. Descartes emphasized: "The outside world could be a mere dream."


According to Arthur Schopenhauer , the whole of reality is subject to a principle that he calls “will”. “The world is my imagination” is Schopenhauer's first main tenet of his philosophy. The world, viewed as an idea, breaks up into subjects and objects, which are inseparably different from one another, but in the end both are only appearances of the metaphysical will. According to Schopenhauer, humans, as the highest manifestation of the noumenal metaphysical will, are given the opportunity to cancel the illusion of personal will and thus to reach a state of non-existence, of nirvana . This shows a strong influence of Indian philosophy , in Schopenhauer's translation of a passage from an early partial transmission of the Upanishads : "The whole world is basically I alone and apart from myself nothing else exists and I made the entire creation myself". Schopenhauer himself, however, distinguishes himself from solipsism.


Max Stirner formulates in The One and His Own (1845) theses such as “Nothing beats me” or “I am not an I among other I, but the sole I: I am unique”. He turns against a justification of ethics from general terms such as that of humanity . He suggests orientation towards the self in its “uniqueness” as overcoming a determinateness through external forces (Stirner speaks of “realism”) or abstract ideas (“idealism”), in short, any will to be something other than one's own self ; He criticizes alternative modern positions as not more advanced than religious justification patterns - which z. B. also applies to Ludwig Feuerbach's orientation towards the human species. There should be no obligations between the self and society or the state, but rather an antagonism. He also suggests this position of "individuality" to other people regardless of any obligation. They can join together out of self-interest - but not as a means to a purpose different from their “individuality” and related to it. Stirner himself formulates: "Everything should be my business, but never my business: Ugh about the egoist [...] Nothing beats me."

The concept of individuality is essential for Max Stirner's understanding of solipsism. At Stirner, “I” means “only” in the sense of unique. The development of individuality also means "becoming oneself", i. H. the term describes the human development process. Within this radical individuality, Stirner then, echoing Nietzsche, develops a negation of morality, an atheism and a related criticism of society. Stirner also works with the term "owner". In The One and His Own , he writes: "When I rose to be the owner of the world, egoism had won its first complete victory, had conquered the world, had become worldless."

At Max Stirner, the self is the designer of the world in every respect. This results in various derivations of this concept, which justify a radical concept of freedom. Stirner writes: “ No thing is sacred in itself, but only by my declaring it sacred. ”Stirner is thus a representative of the radical variant of solipsism.


With Ludwig Wittgenstein , the topic of metaphysical or epistemic solipsism is treated indirectly in connection with the private language argument. According to this, there cannot be a purely private language or meanings of his linguistic utterances known only to the speaker. The logical structure of Wittgenstein's argument, as well as its plausibility or the plausibility of numerous proposed reconstructions and modifications, is still disputed today. A simplified reading is, for example: only if other participants in the use of the same language can accept or reject utterances in this language in accordance with shared usage conventions, these utterances can be true at all. In Wittgenstein's philosophical investigations , the problem of solipsism is presented in the following statement: “But if you say: 'How should I know what he means, I only see his signs,' then I say: 'How should he know what he thinks he only has his signs. '"

Wittgenstein's problem of solipsism can be traced back to his first work, the Tractatus logico-philosophicus . Current research takes the view that Wittgenstein represented a solipsistic position in the Tractatus, which he then rejected in the Philosophical Investigations. In this context, PMS Hacker is mentioned in particular. "What solipsism means is quite correct, only it cannot be said , it shows itself" (Tractatus 5.62). Wittgenstein seems particularly impressed by Schopenhauer in the early years of his philosophical work; Wittgenstein himself occasionally said that he had hardly read any of the great philosophers, with Schopenhauer's main work being an exception and Wittgenstein probably lying in front of him when writing the Tractatus Die Welt as will and idea . Pointing the way for the solipsistic tendency of the Tractatus is the famous sentence “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” (bar 5.6). The subject views the world through language, the logical framework of this external world, whereby “logic is not a doctrine, but a reflection of the world” (T. 6.13). According to the doctrine of the Tractatus, language and the world it represents cannot exist independently of the subject. It is about my language and my world. The solipsistic approach of the Tractatus becomes clear from the fact that the world can only ever be “my world”, which incidentally also represents the basic thesis of solipsism. With this knowledge the ego enters philosophy, and the ego is each individual himself. Seen from the philosophical view of the world, the subject and the logically structured world are one. Wittgenstein's approach is traced back to Otto Weininger , whose work gender and character must have exerted a certain fascination on Wittgenstein. In this context Weininger speaks of the unity of the “ethically determined I” with the (logically structured) world. This is the reason why David Bell speaks of Wittgenstein's "ego-eradicating solipsism".

According to Wittgenstein, as the owner or descriptor of the world, the subject is not a part of it, since it cannot be a subset of what it describes. In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein's philosophy changes in relation to solipsism in such a way that his thoughts on this topic are no longer in the context of logic, but of psychology. Vossenkuhl describes this new context as "grammatical solipsism" and means by it one which, through a linguistic agreement, allows statements that are accessible to everyone.

The problem for the solipsist is how to tell if someone else is in pain, for example. He does not fundamentally deny the pain of the other against the background of the assumption that only his own pain is real, but he will come to the conclusion that the other is also in pain, just not his, that of the solipsist. Wittgenstein's solipsism results from the logic of his thinking. For him, there are no grammar and no rules for communicating private feelings, because language doesn't just work in one way.

According to Vossenkuhl, Wittgenstein himself is not a solipsist, but for the purpose of understanding he makes his perspective his own. The interesting thing about Wittgenstein's concept of solipsism is that there are no differences between the individual subjects with regard to their perception of the world. This is actually a paradox since he emphasized the subjective point of view. Wittgenstein's assertion that the world is only my world implies that it is the same for everyone. "There is only the first person singular as a knowledge subject and no third persons" as Vossenkuhl puts it. Solipsism thus coincides with realism, as Wittgenstein had already expressed in the Tractatus (bar 5.64).

Putnam / Fodor

Hilary Putnam , Jerry Fodor and others have coined the terms “methodological solipsism” and “externalism” (in relation to the content of linguistic utterances or conceptualized terms). According to the latter, the meaning of words or concepts depends on the real existence of their referents in the (unconscious) world. The thought experiment of the twin earth should clarify this; It results in the thesis: What our concept of knowledge ultimately means depends on e.g. For example, it depends on how the element with which we actually causally interacted is really made - not, for example, how it appears phenomenal to us. If this position is plausible, the acceptance of a methodological as well as a metaphysical solipsism, according to the usual view, becomes implausible.

Hilary Putnam also works with the notion of direct realism , referring to Wittgenstein. This is about the relationship between language and reality and about the fact that Wittgenstein does not place any mental images between things and thoughts about them.

Further concepts

In phenomenology , debates on the problem of external perception also have to do with the subject of solipsism.

Bertrand Russell defines solipsism as "the view that I exist as the only one", which he also wants to express a criticism of this concept, especially since solipsism seems to him to be more of a question of faith. For Russell, therefore, solipsism is irrefutable. As a basic concept of reality, Russell circumvents it by inferring that "there are probably other spirits as well". "

Jean-Paul Sartre sees the “cliff of solipsism” as an ongoing problem.

The bon mot comes from Rupert Riedl : "I am personally convinced that I could drive an entire solipsist congress to flight with an escaped wild rhinoceros."


Philosophical literature

  • JL Austin : Foreign soul. In: Collected Philosophical Essays. Stuttgart 1986, pp. 101-152.
  • RC Buck: Non-Other Minds. In: RJ Butler (Ed.): Analytical Philosophy. Volume 1, Oxford 1966, pp. 187-210.
  • G. Graham: The Problem of Other Minds. In: Philosophy of Mind, An Introduction. Oxford 1993, chap. 3, pp. 36-59.
  • N. Malcolm: The Privacy of Experience. In: Thought and Knowledge. Ithaca and London 1977, pp. 104-132.
  • N. Malcolm: Knowledge of Other Minds. In: Knowledge and Certainty. Ithaca and London 1975, pp. 130-140.
  • Hilary Putnam : Brains and Behavior. In: Analytical Philosophy. Volume 2, Oxford 1968, pp. 1-19.
  • PMS Hacker : Empirical Realism and Transcendental Solipsism. In: Insight and Deception. Frankfurt 1978, chap. 3, pp. 87-122.
  • PMS Hacker: The Refutation of Solipsism. In: Insight and Deception. Frankfurt 1978, chap. 7, pp. 251-286.
  • M. ter Hark: Wittgenstein and Russell on psychology and other psychics. In: Wittgenstein on the soul. Frankfurt 1995, pp. 84-106.

Fiction literature

  • David Ambrose : The 8th day. Weltbild Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach / Augsburg 1997, ISBN 3-404-12988-1 .
  • Martin Eichhorn : Come, you will, you will get it. A philosophical detective novel. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2004, ISBN 3-8260-2640-3 .
  • Robert Heinlein : (late work)
  • Sonja Klimek: Postmodern Solipsism. On 'psychic centralism' in “La secte des égoïstes” (1994) by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt and “ Agnes ” (1998) by Peter Stamm . In: German Studies in Switzerland. Yearbook of the Swiss Academic Society for German Studies. Issue 10/2013, pp. 431–438.
  • George Orwell : 1984. In the 3rd chapter of III. Orwell calls IngSoc's way of thinking "collective solipsism".
  • Henry Rollins : Solipsist. Collection of poems, essays, short stories and fragments. MirandA-Verlag, Bremen 2003, ISBN 3-934790-05-4 .
  • Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt : The school of the egoists. From the French by Inés Koebel . Ammann Verlag, Zurich 2004, ISBN 3-250-60061-X . (The title should actually be Die Schule der Solipsisten . Since this term is little known, the author, a trained philosopher, avoided it in favor of the popular “egoism”. The novel offers an amusing explanation of the problematic of solipsism.)
  • Martin Suter : The dark side of the moon . Klett, Stuttgart / Leipzig 2012, ISBN 978-3-12-352471-4 .
  • Kurt Vonnegut : Breakfast of champions. Novel. From the American. by Kurt Heinrich Hansen. Goldmann, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-442-44516-7 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Solipsism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Representation based on Richard A. Fumerton: Solipsism. In: Encyclopedia of Philosophy . 2nd Edition. Volume 9, pp. 115-122.
  2. ^ Metzler Philosophy Lexicon, p. 549.
  3. Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 9, p. 118.
  4. Gottfried Gabriel: Solipsism. In: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy . Volume 9, pp. 1018-1023.
  5. Charlataneria eruditorum, Amstelodami 1716, 153 (online) / 1727, 189, quoted in Gabriel, 1018 and (underlying) Wilhelm Halbfass: Descartes' question about the existence of the world . Research on Cartesian thought practice and metaphysics. Meisenheim am Glan 1968, p. 208.
  6. Princ. philos. I, 4th Medit. I.
  7. Schopenhauer: Parerg. II, § 13. The passage from Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron : Oupnek'hat . Two volumes. Strasbourg 1801-1802, Volume 1, 122 reads: “ Hae omnes creaturae in totum ego sum et praeter me ens aliud non est et omnia ego creata feci ”.
  8. Max Stirner: The only one and his property. Verlag O. Wigand, Leipzig 1845, p. 483 (online) . (In Stuttgart 1976, p. 124)
  9. cf. on this, for example: RWK Paterson, The Nihilistic Egoist Max Stirner, London 1971, pp. 252–285.
  10. ^ John Henry Mackay: Max Stirner. His life and work. Freiburg 1977, p. 133.
  11. Maurice Schuhmann, Radical Individuality, Bielefeld 2011, p. 275.
  12. Maurice Schuhmann, Radical Individuality, p. 296 ff.
  13. Maurice Schuhmann, Radical Individuality, p. 306.
  14. ^ RWK Paterson, The Nihilistic Egoist Max Stirner, p. 260.
  15. ^ Solipsism, in: Metzler Philosophie Lexikon, p. 549.
  16. Philosophical Investigations , § 504
  17. Andrea Birk, On the Disappearance of the Subject. A historical-systematic study of the problem of solipsism in Wittgenstein, Paderborn 2006, p. 12.
  18. On the relationship between Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer see z. E.g .: EM Lange, Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer, 1989, and DA Weiner, Genius and Talent, 1992.
  19. Andrea Birk, Vom Disappearance of the Subject, p. 88.
  20. Andrea Birk, Vom Disappearance of the Subject, p. 57.
  21. ^ Wilhelm Vossenkuhl, Ludwig Wittgenstein, p. 178.
  22. ^ Wilhelm Vossenkuhl, Solipsism and Language Criticism. Contributions to Wittgenstein, Berlin 2009, p. 97.
  23. ^ Wilhelm Vossenkuhl, Solipsismus und Sprachkritik, p. 102 f.
  24. ^ Wilhelm Vossenkuhl, Solipsismus und Sprachkritik, p. 105.
  25. ^ Wilhelm Vossenkuhl, Solipsismus und Sprachkritik, p. 123.
  26. ^ Wilhelm Vossenkuhl, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Munich 2003, p. 175 f.
  27. ^ Wilhelm Vossenkuhl, Ludwig Wittgenstein, p. 178.
  28. ^ Wilhelm Vossenkuhl, Ludwig Wittgenstein, p. 199.
  29. cf. on this: David Bell, Solipsism, Subjectivity and Public World, in: Wilhelm Vossenkuhl (Ed.): Learn from Wittgenstein, Berlin 1992, p. 35.
  30. Hans-Johann Glock, Wittgenstein-Lexikon, Darmstadt 2010, p. 321.
  31. Such a chapter in Being and Nothing .
  32. ^ R. Riedl 1987. Culture: Late ignition of evolution? Answers to questions about evolution and epistemology. Munich: Piper. P. 77.