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Assignment Questions

Epistemology and Skepticism in Films

Please write according to the criteria in the buttom about one of these films:
The Truman Show 1998
Director: peter weir

Truman Burbank has lived his entire life in a sleepy, idyllic island town, never wanted to leave or even vacation away from it. However, Truman‘s beloved hometown is not what it seems. It is actually a very elaborate movie set and studio from which is broadcasted Truman‘s complete life story. Thus, without realizing it, Truman has been the star of the most popular reality television show of all time! (THIS MOVIE RAISES THE ISSUE OF HOW APPEARANCES CAN DIFFER FROM REALITY.)

A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Director: Ron Howard

This acclaimed film was inspired by the true story of John Nash, a mathematical genius and Nobel Prize winner, who also suffers from a mental disorder. Before he was properly diagnosed, Nash developed relationships with people who were nothing more than figment of his imagination. (THIS FILM IS IMPORTANT BECAUSE IT AFFORDS US A REAL-WORLD SCENARIO IN WHICH REALITY AND APPEARANCE CAN BE DIVERGENT WHEN WE LAST EXPECT IT.)

If those movies were not an option try the following:

The 13th floor 1999, director: Josef Rusnak.
This film raises the specter of skepticism and (allegedly) threatens the integrity of Descartes’s Cogito. Note how this film is importantly different from The Matrix portrayal of skepticism.

Vanilla Sky (2001) director: Cameron Crowe.
This movie puts an interesting spin on Descartes’s “Dream argument.”

How to develop this essay

Once you’ve formulated the issue (such as the develop of knowledge “justified true beliefe”, or skepticism) on which you wish to focus and briefly described how it arises in the film, you should review some of the alternative ‘answers’ that have been given to your major issue. For example, consider the differences among how a skeptic and a realist might interpret the issue presented in the film. Generally, you’ll probably find that the film itself adopts or suggests a particular approach to the issue. Identify what that is if you can, and then consider the limitations of that approach in light of other possible ones. You might even ask yourself in what ways the film might have been different had it adopted other possible viewpoints on the issue. (Feel free, for instance, to suggest ‘alternative endings’ that more agree with your own viewpoint.)

How to organize this essay

1) Introduction: A brief account of the manner in which the philosophical issue you want to explore presents itself in the film together with a presentation of the issue in more general terms. (For instance, “In Indecent Proposal, a young married couple receives an offer from a wealthy and attractive man that the wife spend one night with him for a million dollars. The ethical issue is whether a sufficient sum of money (and the benefits for them it can buy) can justify their breaking of their marriage promises. At the most general level, the issue is whether moral commitments like promises can be justifiably broken if the consequences of doing so are sufficiently beneficial.)

2) A statement about the position adopted by the film. (For instance, this film seems to suggest that accepting the ‘proposal’ was morally justifiable so long as their relationship was strong enough to survive the ‘infidelity’ – although I admit that someone else might read this a different way.)

3) Reasons why you agree or disagree with the viewpoint presented by the film.

4) Conclusion. This can take a number of forms. You might, for instance, conclude that the film itself adopted an immoral or unsupportable position; or that it was naïve or oversimplified in failing to present the entire realm of possible consequences; or that it never presented an important alternative viewpoint; or even that it was generally unrealistic or unsatisfying in dealing with the issue involved. The important thing is that your conclusion be a critical assessment of the film based upon your analysis of the issue involved, the film’s perspective on it, and the reasons you gave for agreeing or disagreeing with it.

Please, don’t spend a lot of time just presenting the storyline of the film. Get to the main philosophical issue involved pretty quickly and concentrate on that. You’ll usually find that a lot of the details of the plot will be irrelevant to your issue.

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