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Subjective idealism is the monistic metaphysical doctrine that only minds and mental contents exist. It entails and is generally identified or associated with immaterialism, the doctrine that material things do not exist. Subjective idealism rejects dualism, neutral monism, and materialism.

How could my to be constructed language be restricted to such view of reality?

My guess is that its semantic primes should consist of:

  • qualia: individual instances of subjective, conscious experience such as the redness of an evening sky, pain of a headache, the taste of wine, etc.
  • A pronoun like *I* to refer to one's self
  • Verbs such as *think*, *believe*, *know*
  • Adverbs such as: *now*, *before*, *after*

Objects (e.g. chair, table, etc.), other personal pronouns (you, he, etc.), matter and all the other things that do not really exist (in the view of subjective idealism) would be defined as paraphrases.

Edit: Note that this is not a question on subjective idealism in reality, but about subjective idealism in a constructed world. Therefore arguments against subjective idealism in reality are irrelevant.

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    A speaker of your language cannot utter the equivalent sentence to "everything that exists is made of matter, including our own thoughts"? Why would that be? Or is it the case that the equivalent of such sentence would be necessarily agrammatical? How would that be possible? – Luís Henrique Jan 18 at 1:16
  • @LuísHenrique The word "matter" would not be a semantic prime and there would be no way to define it. – Bob Jan 18 at 8:16
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We can have two classes of nouns: souls, and the perceptions and ideas of souls. Ideas nouns must be inflected for who they are being perceived by: you, God, or whoever. This would have the effect of turning a sentence like "The dog is red" into "The dog seems red to me."

Secondly, instead of saying "The dog…" or "There is a dog…", you would say "I have the idea of a dog that…" Then to refer to that dog again, instead of using a pronoun like "it", you could say something like "my aforementioned dog idea". Idea nouns could exist only in a sort of object case, and not as a subject, to make speaking about it directly as if it really existed out there ungrammatical.

  • While someone could speak in such a manner, how do you propose the conlang force them to? – curiousdannii Apr 13 at 8:49
  • It would be ungrammatical to speak of objects without stating what soul is perceiving them. Of course, people can speak ungrammatically, and the vocabulary and grammar of the language might shift, and there's nothing much we can do about that. But I think what is possible is to have a language that is most naturally expressed with this philosophy in mind. – mic Apr 14 at 17:16
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You may be interested in E-Prime.

E-Prime is a version of English that excludes all forms of the verb to be, including all conjugations, contractions and archaic forms. This makes many objective statements like "Roses are red" impossible. Instead a person is required to use more subjective constructions like "Roses appear red to me".

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Basically, your question is misstated.

In our own world, languages cannot enforce philosophies. You can be a Hegelian, a Tomist, a Berkelian, or a Marxist, in any given language, from Modern English to Ancient Farsi.

After all, all languages have this pesky word, "no", so that anything that can be affirmed can also be negated.

In a constructed world, everything is possible - negation of entropy, FTL travel, and all kinds of magic. So in your constructed world, language makes impossible for people to follow any other philosophy than subjective idealism. How language does this? It is better not to explain it, or only do it through applied phlebotinum - like SF writers do when describing FTL travel or the nature of mana.


I suggest this fiction, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius by Jorge Luís Borges; it might be somewhat similar to - though somewhat more disquieting than - what you intend.

  • So you disagree with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? – Bob Jan 18 at 8:15
  • @Bob - Yes, I do. But that is a too complex issue to discuss on comments, and too off-topic to go in the answer. Anyway, in your fictional universe, it is true, just like in other fictional universes FTL travel is possible. Its validity or lack thereof in the real world shouldn't be of concern, as long as you can coherently manage your fiction within the idea that it is true. – Luís Henrique Jan 29 at 9:22
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    Sapir-Whorf is demonstrably wrong, at least in its strong form, and the popular understanding of it is based on urban legends like the "Inuit have X number of words for snow" idea which is itself based on a misunderstanding of linguistics and how languages work. – Keith Morrison Apr 17 at 21:28
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Revised answer:

There is a maxim of geopoesy: who makes the world makes the rules.

In a secondary world, a world of your own devising, an invented language would not need to "enforce" subjective idealism at all. Only one thing is required, and that is to "set the dial" of your subcreation to subjective idealism.

In that world, only the mind and mental constructs have true existence. The language a mind devises for itself to communicate (within itself) and assuming the mind that exists is a human mind, will arise to describe its experience.

I think your semantic primes would probably be sufficient to describe both the realia of the mind-being's existence: the 1s pronoun, the concrete verbs such as "think", "know" and "believe", the qualia of phantasms created within the mind. Because sunsets and wine do not exist.

If the world you subcreate is, in actuality, a typological copy of the primary world, where things outside the mind have actual existence, then you run into the exact same issues I dealt with when your question was about the primary world itself.

Such a language, I hold, would not be able to "enforce" subjective idealism in any meaningful way. It would not be able to overcome the steak and eggs problem.


Original response to unedited query (regarding subjective idealism within the primary world) retained for historical purposes:

Subjective idealism is the monistic metaphysical doctrine that only minds and mental contents exist. It entails and is generally identified or associated with immaterialism, the doctrine that material things do not exist. Subjective idealism rejects dualism, neutral monism, and materialism.

How could my to be constructed language be restricted to such view of reality?

A very interesting thought experiment! But I believe is simply not practicable.

I don't think a language of any kind will be able to enforce that kind of (quite silly) perspective of reality.

In order to pull it off, I think you would have to first, absolutely and positively convince yourself that Berkeley was a) on to something and b) that a) is The Something.

Now, reason and common sense inform us that things do actually exist. Things outside the mind, things outside of mental construct. I can sit my weary bones down on a chair and be thankful that chairs exist. They're not mental constructs. They're articles of furniture made of wood and designed and built to be sat in. That's reason and common sense refuting Berkeley.

Now, I had a look at Mr Berkeley's picture in that article. He looks pretty well fed to me. Not emaciated, not dehydrated. I'll just bet he enjoyed a good steak and eggs for breakfast!

A true subjective idealist would also have to be a practical breatharian, because food does not exist. It's an insubstantial construct of the mind.

For your language to really function, you too would have to become a breatharian. You know: immerse yourself in the culture! Let us know how far you get in the practical application of this kind of philosophical language!

Specific to your last point re objects: I think, since objects do not exist and are therefore irrelevant to the thought and being of the mind, you could probably get away with a language where all substantives (apart from the 1s) are reduced to a single pronominal stem.

Trees don't exist, so you wouldn't really need a word for "tree". I don't exist, so you don't need a word for "elemtilas". This post doesn't exist, so you don't need words for "stack exchange" or "invented language" or "post" or "forum".

  • My question is not about subjective idealism in reality, but subjective idealism in a constructed world. Although interesting, your arguments about subjective idealism in reality are irrelevant here. I edit my question to clarify this point. – Bob Jan 6 at 9:01
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    If Berkeley were able to enjoy steak and eggs while positing subjective idealism, that just proves that subjective idealism doesn't require breatharianism to be tenable – b a Jan 6 at 10:39
  • @ba It also indicates that he doesn't accept subjective idealism as a viable mode of existence! – elemtilas Jan 6 at 16:05
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    @Bob -- I see you've edited to alter the nature of the query. I answered under the assumption that you were trying to enforce sub-id. in the primary world. In this new circumstance, all answers reduce to you make the world --- you make the rules! – elemtilas Jan 6 at 16:08
  • @Bob -- also note that it is acceptable practice to answer queries in the negative or to address the fundamentals surrounding a premise. Therefore, arguments about subjective realism are entirely relevant to the question. – elemtilas Jan 6 at 16:24
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Look into the way Sanskrit works, and the words they use when discussing Hindu doctrines. I read somewhere that the Sanskrit word for meat, "Mamsa", is a word containing the words for "Me" and "You", referencing that as you kill and eat an animal, you will become an animal in a future lifetime that who you killed will hunt and eat.

The theological/metaphysical statement is right there in a common statement - So the implications of subjective idealism would have to be used to describe phenomena from the most accurate perspective of the worldview.

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I assume that the inhabitants of your constructed world are humans (or at least have comparable minds to humans).

The is a famous hypothesis in lingusitics, called Linguisitc Relativity or Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis that claims (to different degrees) that the language shapes the mind and the world view. Experimental studies only show weak effects, if any. We can assume that humans are able to develop every thought in any language.

On the other hand, authors have used this to some effect in fiction writing—in a constructed fictional world you have the licence to do so and to ignore hard science.

  • How would I do so in fiction writing in a manner that is plausible? – Bob Jan 6 at 21:17
  • If anything else fails, use magic. Just let your society be true believers of Linguisitc Relativity and let the belief system work out ... try it and see how far it can carry you. – jknappen Jan 6 at 21:31
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If you think about it, many existing languages do, albeit in a limited manner. In Spanish, for example, all nouns and pronouns are gendered; either male or female. This enforces the idea that all people are either male or female—which is not true. Your world might have two groups of people and the second group can only be described as 'inferiors' in the language; there is no other word.

  • But when there's no good word, people will borrow one from another language, or make up a new one. Changing grammar is harder, but that happens too. Or the sense of an existing word will change. – curiousdannii Feb 3 at 13:32
  • Really? Many existing languages do enforce subjective idealism? – Bob Feb 3 at 15:34

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