What is the "egocentric predicament?"

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The egocentric predicament is an idea in epistemology that claims that we are not able to truly perceive things as they are because we can only perceive them as our own mental representations.  We have no direct contact with any reality that is outside our own minds.  Therefore, we can never know for sure whether any reality actually exists.

According to this idea, there is simply no way to be certain of anything.  I may think that I am typing on a computer, answering this question, but I have no way to prove it.  My perceptions of what I am doing all occur in my mind and, therefore, they may only be occurring there.

The egocentric predicament, to some philosophers, is a problem for knowledge because it means that we can never actually know about anything.

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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The egocentric predicament is the idea that individuals cannot see reality outside of their own perceptions. This phrase was used by philosophy professor Ralph Barton Perry in the Journal of Philosophy in 1910. The concept is that our interaction with reality only comes through our own minds, so we cannot be sure of reality's existence. We are each constricted to a view of reality provided by our minds. This idea is the core of the philosophical concept of solipsism in epistemology. This is the idea that we only know what exists in our own minds and cannot be sure of the existence of anything beyond our own minds, including other minds. In metaphysics, solipsism supports the idea that nothing exists beyond our own minds.

This idea has existed in philosophy since its formation by Sir George Berkeley in 1710. Samuel Johnson famously denied this idea by kicking a stone when conversing with James Boswell, thus suggesting that outside reality does exist. 

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