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About The Matrix and Philosophy

The choice is yours, and you will have to live with the consequences for the rest of your life as you know it. Will you take the blue pill pass on downloading this e-book and go on thinking of The Matrix as just a movie? Or will you take the red pill: download the New York Times-bestselling The Matrix and Philosophy, read it, and find out how deep the rabbit-hole goes? Is the world around us truly as it appears? Or are we maintained by an invisible force as inert bodies in tanks, our brains electronically stimulated to create the make-believe realm which is all we know? This most demanding of philosophical puzzles became cutting-edge cool with the release of the cult science fiction film The Matrix in 1999. And the questions have become even more complex with the arrival in 2003 of The Matrix: Reloaded; The Matrix: Revolutions; and the associated short animated films collected as The Animatrix. The Matrix is the most philosophical film ever made, its every frame built on a philosophical conundrum, among them: * If the world as we know it is nothing more than our dream of it, does this make the dream real?

About The Matrix and Philosophy


* If we had the choice to step out of our world into a more-real but less-pleasant one to take the red pill would it be a moral failure not to do so? Especially if doing so meant knew insight into the truth of our humanity (or its lack)? * Do humans have an inherent value above that of artificially intelligent machines? * Can the mind live without the body or the body without the mind? In the The Matrix and Philosophy, edited by William Irwin, renowned contemporary philosophers Michael Brannigan; Cynthia Freeland; Jorge J.E. Gracia; Slavoj Zizek, et al analyze The Matrix from many angles: metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, and aesthetic. They uncover hidden depths in this intricate work of art, and often reach disturbing conclusions. Those who take the red pill never look at the real world the same way again. So which will it be? The blue pill click elsewhere. Or the red pill: Download The Matrix and Philosophy now.


Praise for The Matrix and Philosophy

The Matrix is rich in central philosophical themes. The Matrix and Philosophy is even richer in its identification and elaboration of these themes. What could rationalists, empiricists, realists, antirealists, materialists, holists, existentialists, and deconstructionists possibly hold in common? Their signal ideas are all deeply embedded in that movie and artfully unearthed in this book. Whatever your philosophical cup of tea, The Matrix and Philosophy is your teahouse. Lou Marinoff, Ph.D., author of Plato, Not Prozac! and Philosophical Practice William Irwin has done it yet again. But this time with even more philosophical substance than in his previously edited works, Seinfeld and Philosophy and The Simpsons and Philosophy. Irwin has marshaled a talented troupe of essayists who use the film The Matrix to present the curious with an array of philosophical elements that range from metaphysics to ethics; philosophy of mind to philosophy of religion; epistemology to aesthetics; and more. Instructors will be delighted to find a sensible strategy for using popular culture to encourage undergraduates to encounter philosophy in their own medium. Kimberly A. Blessing, Siena Heights University If, like Keanu Reeves, you are confused by the plot of The Matrix, this is clearly the book for you. If you are not confused by the plot of The Matrix, you should seek medical attention immediately. But if you havent even seen The Matrix, then you really must read this book to find out why this film served as a defining experience for an entire generation of college students. Paul A. Cantor, author of Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization

The Matrix and PhilosophyWelcome to the Desert of the Real

Edited by


A n e- book ex cer pt by

For Peter H. Hare, Morpheus to many


Introduction: Meditations on The Matrix


Scene 1 How Do You Know?1. 2. 3. 4. Computers, Caves, and Oracles: Neo and Socrates WILLIAM IRWIN Skepticism, Morality, and The Matrix GERALD J. ERION and BARRY SMITH The Matrix Possibility DAVID MITSUO NIXON Seeing, Believing, Touching, Truth CAROLYN KORSMEYER

3 5 16 28 41

Scene 2 The Desert of the Real5. 6. The Metaphysics of The Matrix JORGE J.E. GRACIA and JONATHAN J. SANFORD The Machine-Made Ghost: Or, The Philosophy of Mind, Matrix Style JASON HOLT Neo-Materialism and the Death of the Subject DANIEL BARWICK Fate, Freedom, and Foreknowledge THEODORE SCHICK, JR.

53 55

66 75 87

7. 8.




Scene 3 Down the Rabbit Hole of Ethics and Religion9. 10. There Is No Spoon: A Buddhist Mirror MICHAEL BRANNIGAN The Religion of The Matrix and the Problems of Pluralism GREGORY BASSHAM Happiness and Cyphers Choice: Is Ignorance Bliss? CHARLES L. GRISWOLD, JR. We Are (the) One! Kant Explains How to Manipulate the Matrix JAMES LAWLER

99 101

111 126

11. 12.


Scene 4 Virtual Themes13. 14. Notes from Underground: Nihilism and The Matrix THOMAS S. HIBBS Popping a Bitter Pill: Existential Authenticity in The Matrix and Nausea JENNIFER L. MCMAHON The Paradox of Real Response to Neo-Fiction SARAH E. WORTH Real Genre and Virtual Philosophy DEBORAH KNIGHT and GEORGE MCKNIGHT

153 155

166 178 188

15. 16.

Scene 5 De-Construct-Ing The Matrix17. 18. Penetrating Keanu: New Holes, but the Same Old Shit CYNTHIA FREELAND The Matrix, Marx, and the Coppertops Life MARTIN A. DANAHAY AND DAVID RIEDER

203 205 216



19. 20.

The Matrix Simulation and the Postmodern Age DAVID WEBERMAN The Matrix: Or, The Two Sides of Perversion SLAVOJ ZIZEK

225 240 267 273

The Potentials The Oracles Index

Acknowledgments About the Editor Popular Culture and Philosophy About The Matrix and Philosophy Praise for The Matrix and Philosophy


Credits Cover Copyright

About Open Court Publishing Company About PerfectBound


Introduction: Meditations on The Matrix

Which pill would you choose, the red or the blue? Is ignorance bliss, or is the truth worth knowing, no matter what? After watching The Matrix we are impressed by the action and special effects, and also besieged by questions. Is it possible that we ourselves are prisoners of the Matrix? Is this a Christian film? A Buddhist film? There is no spoon? A student of mine at Kings College, Adam Albert, first drew my attention to The Matrix. He immediately saw the connections between the film and Descartess speculations on the possibility of deception by dreams or an evil deceiver. My experience and his were similar to those of philosophy professors and students around the world. The magazine Philosophy Now even held an essay contest for college students. The topic: Which pill would you choose? Why? With this book, professors follow the trail blazed by their students. Each author asks and answers questions about the philosophical significance of the film. As culture critic Slavoj Zizek suggests, The Matrix is a philosophers Rorschach inkblot test. Philosophers see their favored philosophy in it: existentialism, Marxism, feminism, Buddhism, nihilism, postmodernism. Name your philosophical ism and you can find it in The Matrix. Still, the film is not just some randomly generated inkblot but has a definite plan behind it and intentionally incorporates much that is philosophical. The Wachowski brothers, college dropout comic-book artists intrigued by the Big Questions, readily acknowledge that they have woven many philosophical themes and allusions into the fabric of the film. The Matrix and Philosophy does not in every instance attempt or purport to convey the intended meaning of the writers and artists responsible for The Matrix. Rather, the book highlights the philosophical significance of the film. To paraphrase Trinity, its the questions that drive us. The contributing authors draw on Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes,




Kant, Nietzsche, Sartre, Sellars, Nozick, Baudrillard, and Quine (among other philosophers) to address the questions: What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope? What is real? What is happiness? What is the mind? What is freedom, and do we have it? Is artificial intelligence possible? Answering these questions leads us to explore many of the major branches of philosophy including metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, and political philosophy. Despite the multitude of questions, there is but one imperative: WAKE UP! People like popular culture; it is the common language of our time. Did you know that Aaliyah died before completing the sequel to The Matrix? Did you know that W.V. Quine died less than a year before that? Many people know about the pop star, Aaliyah, while most people have never even heard of the great philosopher, Quine. The contributing authors of this book aim to bring the reader from pop culture to philosophy. Willie Sutton was a criminal mastermind, a genius of sorts. Once asked, Willie, why do you rob banks? he replied straightforwardly, Because thats where the money is. Why write about pop culture like The Matrix? Because thats where the people are. No one would object if we turned to the works of Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare to raise philosophical questions. The Matrix does not belong to the list of Western classics, but nevertheless the film raises the same philosophical questions as the great works of literature. If philosophy could be found only in the writing of philosophers and were rel


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