Study Guide

1984 Philosophical Viewpoints

By George Orwell

Philosophical Viewpoint quotes in 1984

Book 1, Chapter 2

The sacred principles of Ingsoc: Newspeak, doublethink, the mutability of the past. He felt as though he were wandering in the forests of the sea bottom, lost in a monstrous world where he himself was the monster. He was alone. The past was dead, the future was unimaginable. What certainty had he that a single human creature now living was on his side? And what way of knowing that the dominion of the Party would not endure forever? (1.2.34)

Trapped between the Party's nonsense principles and his own perception of reality, Winston experiences a metaphysical crisis that ultimately leads to his demise.

Book 1, Chapter 3
Winston Smith

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word "doublethink" involved the use of doublethink. (1.3.20)

The Party's concept of doublethink is contrary to reason, logic, and the workings of the brain. It takes a great effort for Winston to engage in doublethink.

If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened - that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death? (1.3.17)

Winston takes metaphysics more seriously than he does death.

Book 1, Chapter 7
Winston Smith

The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth's centre. With the feeling that he was speaking to O'Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom [...] (1.7.29-30)

Winston believes fiercely in the correctness of his position on there being an external, mind-independent reality; however, he cannot help but wonder whether the Party is right in asserting that the contrary is true.

It was as though some huge force were pressing down upon you - something that penetrated inside your skull, battering against your brain, frightening you out of your beliefs, persuading you, almost, to deny the evidence of your senses. In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable-what then? (1.7.27)

Deathly afraid of the Party's proposition that there exists no external reality independent of the mind, Winston feels despair - not because of the doctrine itself, but because he may be subject to the truth of that doctrine.

Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious. (1.7.4)

At reaching a metaphysical paradox, Winston has arrived at a conclusion he does not wish to believe: the proles will never gain the consciousness required for them to effectively rebel.

Thought 2: For the proles, consciousness is as necessary for rebellion as the latter is for consciousness. This paradox is the proles' futile plight.

Book 2, Chapter 5

Syme had vanished. A morning came, and he was missing from work: a few thoughtless people commented on his absence. On the next day nobody mentioned him. On the third day Winston went into the vestibule of the Records Department to look at the notice-board. One of the notices carried a printed list of the members of the Chess Committee, of whom Syme had been one. It looked almost exactly as it had looked before - nothing had been crossed out - but it was one name shorter. It was enough. Syme had ceased to exist: he had never existed. (2.5.1)

That Syme has vanished and ceased to exist on paper (or anywhere else, for that matter) means that for all historical purposes, he has never existed at all.

Winston Smith

"Do you realize that the past, starting from yesterday, has been actually abolished? If it survives anywhere, it's in a few solid objects with no words attached to them, like that lump of glass there. Already we know almost literally nothing about the Revolution and the years before the Revolution. Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, and every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day-by-day and minute-by-minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right. I know, of course, that the past is falsified, but it would never be possible for me to prove it, even when I did the falsification myself. After the thing is done, no evidence ever remains. The only evidence is inside my own mind, and I don't know with any certainty that any other human being shares my memories. Just in that one instance, in my whole life, I did possess actual concrete evidence after the event - years after it." (2.5.14, Winston to Julia)

Winston feels confident that, despite the Party's control of information-and thus, the past-he alone had possession of evidence to prove the Party's wrong. (At least in his memory.)

Book 3, Chapter 2
O'Brien

"Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past," repeated Winston obediently.

"Who controls the present controls the past," said O'Brien, nodding his head with slow approval. "Is it your opinion, Winston, that the past has real existence?" (3.2.39-40)

To O'Brien's dismay, Winston continues to deny that the mutability of the past leads to control of the present. However, the prolonged torture has been gnawing away at Winston's belief in an independent, external reality.

"You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self- destruction, an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane." (3.2.51, O'Brien)

In urging Winston to discard his rebellious views, O'Brien imparts on him a Party-centric, metaphysical view of reality: reality does not exist except in the collective and immortal mind of the Party.

O'Brien smiled faintly. "You are no metaphysician, Winston," he said. "Until this moment you had never considered what is meant by existence. I will put it more precisely. Does the past exist concretely, in space? Is there somewhere or other a place, a world of solid objects, where the past is still happening?"

"No."

"Then where does the past exist, if at all?"

"In records. It is written down."

"In records. And- ?"

"In the mind. In human memories."

"In memory. Very well, then. We, the Party, control all records, and we control all memories. Then we control the past, do we not?"

"But how can you stop people remembering things?" cried Winston again momentarily forgetting the dial. "It is involuntary. It is outside oneself. How can you control memory?

You have not controlled mine!" (3.2.42-49)

Facing extreme torture, Winston vehemently refuses to give up the view that an independent external reality exists, even in a world where the Party controls all records. Winston's fierce belief in the immutability of memory is the last straw he holds on to.

Winston Smith

Did not the statement, "You do not exist", contain a logical absurdity? But what use was it to say so? His mind shriveled as he thought of the unanswerable, mad arguments with which O'Brien would demolish him.

"I think I exist," he said wearily. "I am conscious of my own identity. I was born and I shall die. I have arms and legs. I occupy a particular point in space. No other solid object can occupy the same point simultaneously. In that sense, does Big Brother exist?" (3.2.40-41, Winston)

Winston continues to hold on to the concept of an independent, external reality by referring to his being conscious of his own existence.

Book 3, Chapter 3
O'Brien

"We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull..." (3.3.21, O'Brien)

Furthering Party doctrines, O'Brien attempts to push his view of a mind-dependent reality on Winston.

Winston shrank back upon the bed. Whatever he said, the swift answer crushed him like a bludgeon. And yet he knew, he knew, that he was in the right. The belief that nothing exists outside your own mind - surely there must be some way of demonstrating that it was false? Had it not been exposed long ago as a fallacy? There was even a name for it, which he had forgotten. A faint smile twitched the corners of O'Brien's mouth as he looked down at him.

"I told you, Winston," he said, "that metaphysics is not your strong point. The word you are trying to think of is solipsism. But you are mistaken. This is not solipsism." (3.3.31-32, O'Brien)

Winston continues to believe in an independently existing reality, but O'Brien ridicules him and tells him it is not so.

"Nonsense. The earth is as old as we are, no older. How could it be older? Nothing exists except through human consciousness."

"But the rocks are full of the bones of extinct animals - mammoths and mastodons and enormous reptiles which lived here long before man was ever heard of." (3.3.25-26, Winston, O'Brien)

Winston continues to resist the concept of a mind-dependent reality by referring to the existence of creatures pre-dating man.

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