Against Wittgenstein’s Neutral Monism and Solipsism (trimmed version)

15 Jul

The full version of this paper has been put before the Prolegomena Undergraduate Journal for consideration. This version has been largely trimmed to not invalidate Prolegomena’s rule that the paper has not been published elsewhere. The previous smaller posts on Wittgenstein have been my preceding notes to this paper. Here it is below:

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Perception is the root of Wittgensteinian arguments of neutral monism and solipsism. Perception is one’s interpretation, sight, and understanding of the people and world around us. Some philosophers rely on perception, while others righteously contemplate upon truth in things without necessary coherence with their own perceptions. Benedict de Spinoza, for one, relied little upon his perception to understand the world metaphysically. I bring up the topic of Spinozistic philosophy because he also, like Wittgenstein, had a monistic philosophy. Monism states that only one substance makes up the body and the world. Monism also states that because of the fact that only one substance makes up the body and the world, the human being consists only of one part (the soul). Following Rene Descartes and his dualist philosophy of there being a self and a body within the human being, philosophers predicted many difficulties and complexities in philosophy with this dualist idea. Descartes’ complex dualist philosophy caused a drive towards the proof and foundation of a monism, or of there being one substance of the body and the world, and one component of the human being. This drive towards monism did not allow every philosopher to agree with each other, and two different types of monism were created: neutral monism, and mental substance monism. Spinoza advocated the substance monism centered on God as the main substance of the world and human beings. This monism is often classified as mental because not all of what this monism states is perceived by the human that has faith in it. Wittgenstein, on the other hand, advocated neutral monism. This monism is neutral because objects within it are neutral without taking any precedent over each other and it states that the human is of one component and that that component creates the world he sees. For example, something only exists in neutral monism if the human sees it. Monism should not be rooted in perception, nor should anything else. However, Wittgenstein’s philosophies would not exist if he had not taken belief in perceptions.

Neutral monism and solipsism are included in Wittgenstein’s philosophies that are rooted in perception. Solipsism, being the more widely known idea between it and neutral monism, relates to the philosophy of neutral monism in a way that both can be explained and argued for or against together. Solipsism is easily understood when read about in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Each solipsistic proposition in the Tractatus works together to give the reader a full and accurate view of the solipsist’s ideas. Like neutral monism, solipsism states that because of one’s language and perception, the world and life together make the only possible world for you. Solipsism states that the only thing that can be confirmed to exist is of one’s own existence. The solipsist confirms his own existence because that is the only true knowledge available. The perceived world is believed by the solipsists to be in reflection of themselves because of the fact that it is a perception of their own mind. The perceived world is also believed to not be very well known because of the fact that their own existence is the only thing that can be confirmed. The perceived world cannot totally be confirmed to even exist because that which is perceived could be an illusion from perceptions that occur. The Latin word ‘sol’ means one, or alone and is used in the word ‘solipsism’ because the solipsist states that he only knows and recognizes his own existence. Wittgenstein’s Tractatus propositions reflect the solipsist view.

Wittgenstein’s propositions 5.6 and 5.61 in the Tractatus concern the link between language and logic and the limits within them. “5.6- The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” and “5.61- Logic pervades the world:  the limits of the world are also its limits. So we cannot say in logic, ‘The world has this in it, and this, but not that.’ For that would appear to presuppose that we were excluding certain possibilities, and this cannot be the case, since it would require that logic should go beyond the limits of the world…. We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either” (Wittgenstein). 5.6 is a well known proposition that concerns language of the solipsist. If someone has a certain language that governs what they say, it has limits just like all languages do. Wittgenstein states that because of the limits a language has, their world is also limited for that reason. 5.61 is basically warrant and backing for 5.6. 5.61 begins by relating 5.6 to another thing that is limited. He says that if language is limited, then my world is limited, and if my world is limited, logic that pervades the world is also limited. 5.61 goes on to say that you cannot say that there are possibilities that do not exist in the world because that would mean that the logical limits set by 5.6 and the beginning of 5.61 would be dismantled. 5.61 ends by stating that what cannot be thought cannot be said because of the limits of language and logic because of the world’s limits.

These two propositions relate to the overall definition of solipsism because of the water they want language to hold. Our thoughts are usually not able to be clearly said through our language, and this shows the limits language has. Wittgenstein states that language is how we explain logic and the world. If language has limits, the explanation of the world and the world itself are limited. Wittgenstein even goes far enough to say that because of the limits language obviously has, logic is also limited because of that. What this personal language does is it personalizes the way a person understands the world and logic. Each person’s language is different; therefore the limits are always different. Wittgenstein uses the connection between the language limits to the world and logic because of the fact that language can mislead you if you do not pursue knowledge correctly. By saying that logic and the world are limited, he feels he is correctly using language to explain the world and logic. This limited language and how it limits everything language conveys (logic and the world) is different for any person, and therefore causes a different perception for each person. These individual limits cause confusion and lead to the thought that the only thing that can be ensured is that the individual exists. Propositions 5.6 and 5.61 in the Tractatus directly show and lead to blatant solipsism.

The end of 5.61 “we cannot think what we cannot think; what we cannot think we cannot say either” (Wittgenstein) states in one sentence the argument of solipsism stemming from personal language. 5.62 is the proposition that explains that the previous two propositions cohere directly with solipsism. The proposition is ended with, “The world is my world: this is manifest in the fact that the limits of my language (of that language which I alone understand) mean the limits of my world” (Wittgenstein). Because of the language that the individual has alone, limits are imposed on what the language exists for. Because the language is personal to one individual it limits the world. Wittgenstein takes from this that he can state that the world is his world because of the limits his language puts on it and how his mind perceives it. Stating that the world is your world is solipsistic because it relates to the fact that because of language limits and other limits on knowledge, you can only validate your own existence, and therefore making the world you perceive your own world.

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Solipsism and neutral monism are coincidental and directly related because of the ground breaking propositions Wittgenstein stated in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. These propositions are ground breaking and interesting, yet they are wrong for the most part. These propositions being the root of neutral monism and solipsism make both schools of thought wrong. They have interesting inferences such as they think that perceptions do not denote reality at all, and other perceptory truths, but these inferences direct them to the wrong conclusions. Because of how solipsism helps explain the workings of neutral monism, I will explain why solipsism is wrong then go into the falsities of neutral monism.

Solipsism is easily understood by Wittgenstein’s proposition: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” (Wittgenstein). Language is only a means of communication between each other and explaining the world and people as best as possible. Language is all that we have to explain and communicate, but that does not mean that it limits the world we live in. By saying that language limits our world is settling for less than necessary in explaining the world. Language has faults and does not well explain the world, and saying that the faulty language we use limits the world is disallowing us to know the world to the best of our ability. There are many unknowns that we cannot possibly know, but language excludes more than those things. Rather than saying that the limits of language are the limits of the world, we can create more language to help more and more accurately explain the world around us. Language limits the world unless the philosopher or linguist does something about it. If no one had or does not do anything about the limits language has, then limits of language mean the limits of the world. Philosophers and linguists (like Derrida) have been doing something about the limits language has, so the limits of language are lesser as time goes by. Regardless of what language’s limits are, the world has an infinite amount of things for us to come to understand. Because solipsism is very rooted in “the limits of language mean the limits of my world”, solipsism is therefore faulty and false.

Because of how Wittgenstein thought that the limits of language meant the limits of the world, he grouped the world and life together as one entity: “The world and life are one” and “I am my world (the microcosm)” (Wittgenstein). The grouping of the world and life is wrong because the world is only a space for us to exist in for a certain period of time. If our life is to be grouped at all, it is to be grouped with God. God made us in His image, and created everything including the world as space for us to exist in. The solipsists group the life with the world because the world is all we can perceive by ourselves without concerning God’s presence. We cannot be united with a space because if we are united at all, we must be united with the one who created space and us. When Wittgenstein stated these propositions, he relied too much upon the perception and sensory impressions to guide his philosophy. The world and life are not one; the life is one with God. I cannot be ‘my world.’ God is my world. God causes everything to happen, and he creates everything we see, therefore, God is the only thing that my world can be. My statement against solipsism cannot be understood by using only perception, but one must have faith and understanding about the place of God to understand what the world really is. Because I am not my world, and the world and life are not one, solipsism in another aspect is therefore wrong.

Finally, a proposition by Wittgenstein that I feel is completely ridiculously solipsistic: “So, too at death, the world does not alter, but comes to an end” (Wittgenstein). Wittgenstein and the other solipsists believe this because of the fact that the person’s perceptions create the world, and when that person dies, and no more perceptions occur, the world comes to an end. In my opinion, this is completely ridiculous because of the many people that live in the world and have perceptions, and yet when one person dies and stops having perceptions, the world comes to an end. I understand that it is sort of meant that only one world is known to exist by each person, and that that world dies when that person dies, however it has to be inferred the possibilities of millions of other worlds that have not died. World cannot die if a person dies. Not only does the world not die if one person dies, but God still exists if one person (and one world) dies. God has to be taken into consideration. The world cannot come to an end if just one course of perception dies. The solipsists argue that that is all one can know to exist, and when the only thing one can for sure know dies, the world therefore dies. Everything besides your own perceptions has to be taken into consideration including the presence of God in the world and even within perceptions and sensory impressions. The world does not come to an end when a person dies in any sense of the proposition.

Solipsism basically defined is the philosophy that the only thing that can be ensured to exist is yourself and that things the perception catches may or may not exist. This main basic solipsist principle is false. More than oneself can be ensured to exist. The mind can cause perception to be misleading and foggy, but more than oneself can be ensured to exist. Nothing would be perceived to exist and there would be no being to perceive things if there was no supreme deity. A supreme deity can be confirmed to exist. If no supreme deity existed, the soul would not exist, and there would be no one to perceive and foolishly resort to solipsism. Also, if no supreme deity existed, there would be nothing to possibly perceive. God (supreme deity) created the beings and the world (the creatum) causing us to exist and perceive things to judge for ourselves what they are and how they exist. A creatum (plethora of space and beings created by a supreme deity) can be confirmed to exist if a supreme deity exists. A creatum denotes space, beings, and time that we all perceive. Many more things can be confirmed to exist if a supreme deity and a creatum exists, but my concentrated point is that more than just oneself can be confirmed to exist, therefore shattering the Wittgensteinian solipsist view.

Solipsism is what I would call selfish philosophy. Everything that happens and that is perceived is referred to in relevance to the thing that is confirmed to exist. The philosophy of solipsism does not leave room for the existence of anything else, even a God.  When first trying to understand solipsism, I was turned off to it immediately by the fact that it leaves out the possibility of existence of God (it does not directly leave this possibility out, but its only confirmation of existence in oneself quickly removes possibility of a supreme deity). I also feel that solipsism is hastily inferred from the fact that language is limited to a large extent in explaining the world. The limits of language eventually lead to solipsism and selfish philosophy. Finally, the only confirmation of existence being of a minor existence (oneself; this existence is minor in the fact that God is so much bigger than the world and its beings) makes solipsism difficult to advocate. Solipsism is ultimately false because of the fact that it ignores the existence of so many things around oneself which is why I oppose it and its propositions.

I include neutral monism in my argument against solipsism because of Wittgenstein’s proposition: “Here it can be seen that solipsism, when its implications are followed out strictly, coincides with pure realism…” (Wittgenstein). Again, pure realism is another name for neutral monism. After defining solipsism and neutral monism, and concluding the falsity of solipsism, I also conclude that neutral monism is also false. Like solipsism, neutral monism ensures the existence of the soul of oneself and little else. Neutral monism is unlike the Spinozistic mental substance monism in that only the soul is confirmed to exist and God is not stated in neutral monism to be the substance of the world, and also no substance is noted to exist in the world. Neutral monism is ultimately like solipsism in the fact that it states that the things we perceive (like matter and substance) do not for sure exist.

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The solipsists believe in the lack of self in monism but made a few tweaks to neutralize it. By neutral, this form of monism tries to reduce complexities by making existences neutral as in that they may or may not exist. The Spinozistic mental Godly monism is not neutral because of the fact that it states the existence of God, multiple people, matter, personality and other things that are not neutral in existence in any way. The solipsists viewed the possible existences within perception as totally neutral and wanted to endorse monism, and did so by making some changes creating a whole new branch in monistic philosophy. Solipsism is neutral in its existence of beings as is this form of monism. In true reality, existence of things are just not neutral and cannot be made neutral through philosophical contemplation and inferences. Existences must be accepted for its characteristic non-neutrality. Neutral monism and its roots in solipsism are false because of its centrality in the sure existence of oneself.

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If for some reason the paper does not get published by Prolegomena, I will post a full version (unless I put it before another journal), and if it does get published by Prolegomena (or anyone else), I will have to take this trimmed version down from this site, however I will post a link to it.

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One Response to “Against Wittgenstein’s Neutral Monism and Solipsism (trimmed version)”

  1. pharmacy tech August 11, 2010 at 10:51 am #

    What a great resource!

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