Egocentric predicament

Term coined by Ralph Barton Perry (1876-1957) for the idea that all our knowledge of the world must take the form of mental representations within our own minds (sensations, images, ideas, and so on), which the mind then operates upon in various ways.

Thus we can never have any direct contact with reality outside our minds, and so, it seems, may not be justified even in thinking it exists.

The predicament faces various kinds of empiricism, which are in danger of slipping into solipsism.

R B Perry, ‘The Egocentric Predicament’, Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Method (1910), later called Journal of Philosophy. Reprinted in W G Muelder and L Sears, eds, The Development of American Philosophy (1940)

Egocentric predicament, a term coined by Ralph Barton Perry in an article (Journal of Philosophy 1910), is the problem of not being able to view reality outside of our own perceptions. All worldly knowledge takes the form of mental representations that our mind examines in different ways. Direct contact with reality cannot be made outside of our own minds; therefore, we cannot be sure reality even exists. This means that we are each limited to our own perceptual world and views. Solipsism is an extension of this which assumes that only one’s own mind is sure to exist.

Since 1710, when George Berkeley broached in his fashion the problem of the egocentric predicament, denying the existence of material substance except as ideas in the minds of perceivers, and thus asserting a problematical relation with reality, hence has this thesis proved a stumbling block.

Samuel Johnson is well known for his “refutation” of Bishop Berkeley’s immaterialism, his claim that matter did not actually exist but only seemed to exist:[1] during a conversation with Boswell, Johnson powerfully stomped a nearby stone and proclaimed of Berkeley’s theory, “I refute it thus!”[2]

Both Perry’s concept and the term he used influenced American philosopher, Everett W. Hall to create the solecism “the categorio-centric predicament” to express the impossibility of seeing the world outside the “categories” imposed by one’s native language and conceptual scheme.

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