Printable Version
Pronunciation: sol-ip-si-zêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: (Philosophy) Egoism, the notion that a person can be sure only that he (or she) exists since all knowledge of the outside world comes through the senses of an individual which may or may not be reliable.

Notes: I am sure you have heard the question, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?" This question arises out of solipsism and the issue of whether anything real exists outside ourselves. Other people, the real world at large, could be just figments of my imagination, aided and abetted by unreliable senses. Only a few solipsists have ever pursued the solipsistic line of reasoning since it cannot be proved or disproved. But that is the point: if the real world exists, we cannot prove it without depending on information from our easily confused senses.

In Play: Though it is used almost exclusively in philosophy, clever minds can find applications of this word: "Marlin says that all my worries are just in my head; I told him that I don't believe in solipsism." Solipsism implies inwardness, loneliness, and isolation from the rest of the world: "Since Aiken Hart started writing poetry, his life has become solipsistic; he never comes out of his thoughts."

Word History: Today's Good Word was created from Latin sol(us) "alone" + ipse "self" + -ism. The root of solus is found at the root of many English borrowings referring to singleness and loneliness: solitary, desolate, isolate, among others. The original root picked up a few consonants on its way to English, where it ended up as self (Russian sebya). It is also related to Latin sui "of oneself", found in English suicide. (Just in case Daniel Figueroa is not a figment of my imagination, I would like to thank him for sending us this word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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