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In another (unrelated) question, the topic of solipsism came up in the comments, as well as the counterargument that there exist obstacles to our will, things out of our control, and so reality must not be generated by our thoughts. I'm by no means a solipsist myself, but this specific counterargument always seemed fairly weak to me, because we already lack full control of our own thoughts.

Whether it be mental illnesses like depression or anxiety, impulsive or intrusive thoughts, or simply the "don't think about pink elephants" phenomenon, there definitely exists something from an individual perspective that prevents our internal life from being entirely under our control. So it just seems to me to stand to reason that the same would apply to our external life under solipsism.

Am I wrong about the weakness of this counterargument? Are there refinements or nuances to it I'm not aware of that make up for this apparent flaw? Or is it just that it's not a very good counterargument in and of itself against solipsism, and other counterarguments serve better?

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The counter argument you mention is a narrow subset of a wider objection to the inability of extreme solipsism to provide a coherent account of what the non-solipsist takes to be external reality. You are right to point out that a person cannot completely control their conscious thoughts, which are susceptible to wandering, to mood, to misapprehensions, to errors of reasoning, to phobias and so on. Moreover, we seem to have no control over our unconscious thoughts which we glimpse through dreams. So the wider point that can be made against solipsism is not just why are there obstacles to our will but why is the Universe so orderly? If everything is the product of one's mind, why is what the solipsist perceives as the external world not prone to the sorts of inconsistencies that characterise every other aspect of their thoughts?

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  • Yes, but I think we can generalize from coincidences and regularities to just the fact that the Universe appears to us to be a certain way, that's probably enough for the argument to go through. The fact that there is a given that we cannot alter is enough to point to the existence of something else that the subject.
    – Frank
    Apr 6, 2023 at 15:35
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    Even if what the subject perceived was completely random, it would still be a given to the subject, and thus point to an object.
    – Frank
    Apr 6, 2023 at 15:37
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    Frank's comment pretty much knocks down your claim that the perceived seeming phenomenal regularity/pattern/order necessarily entail the existence of an external hard cold objective environment of reality... Apr 7, 2023 at 17:54
  • @DoubleKnot I am not saying that the regularity/pattern/order necessarily entails an external reality- I am pointing out that it is inconsistent with the chaotic nature of the rest of our thoughts. Apr 7, 2023 at 20:54
  • But obviously there’re nonchaotic parts of most thoughts if not entirely rational consistent with the said regularity/order, ergo your argument would seem to lead to a solipsistic mind could be larger and thus contain the orderly phenomenal part as well as those chaotic part, not all phenomena are non-random per Heisenberg uncertainty principle… Apr 7, 2023 at 21:13
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What happens with your thoughts that you cannot control is just another example that the subject is not free but is handed a given (they cannot control their thoughts), and that given-to-the-subject is a sign that there has to be something outside the subject, i.e. an objective world (a world of objects as opposed to the subject).

In other words, that you cannot control your thoughts is further evidence that there's more than the subject. A pure subjectivity would be maximally free (because there is no object to constrain it in any way).

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  • Does this account for the idea that 'pure subjectivity' might be error-prone? My initial response to your comment was that perhaps a pure consciousness could be self-limited in some way. Or is that impossible? Apr 7, 2023 at 12:02
  • @Futilitarian Maybe? But what would be the impulse to do that?
    – Frank
    Apr 7, 2023 at 13:44
  • I don't mean self-limited in a wilful sense, but self-limited as a result of the limitations of one's traits. EG: A fridge only has two doors. It can't open a third. That's not an external imposition, but an imposition of its own limitations. Does that make sense? Apr 7, 2023 at 14:19
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    @Futilitarian Need to think about it. I think that maybe a "limitation" can never be "your own". Maybe it's just a way of understanding "subject" as "that which can choose/will without limitation", and as a corollary to understand "limitation" as something necessarily imposed from without. Or maybe the subject can impose limitations on itself (it can choose and will after all), but then those self-imposed limitations seem arbitrary.
    – Frank
    Apr 7, 2023 at 14:45

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