Reality in The Matrix

The Matrix is brimming with philosophical ideas, some of which are explored by Plato, Descartes, Bostrom, and Chalmers in the assigned readings. These include the following:

What is the relationship between reality as we perceive it vs. reality as it is in itself?


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Do we, or could we, have any good reason for believing that we are not in living in a simulation (whether one created by a technologically advanced civilization, an omnipotent and wholly malevolent demon, or by our own minds while we sleep)?If we cannot, then should we change how we think, feel, and live? How we behave towards others? If so, how so?

If we have some good reason for believing that we are living in a simulation, then should we change how we think, feel, and live? How we behave towards others? If so, how so?

Suppose that you could either live outside the Matrix in the dangerous, squalid, yet brave and admirable conditions that the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar do, or inside the Matrix in the way that Cypher hopes to live, as payment for betraying the crew to Agent Smith. Which life would you choose, and why?

To what extent can, and should, we trust others and ourselves to help successfully guide us through the painful, difficult process of learning that reality is drastically different than how it appears — whether it’s something as extreme as learning that you live in a simulation, or something more common like learning that some of your deepest religious, moral, or political commitments are mistaken? 
For this assignment, please pick one of these questions and discuss in a concrete way and in the form of an argumentative essay how the concepts and arguments discussed by Plato, Descartes, Bostrom, and Chalmers can shed light on some of the characters, plot points, themes, and motifs of The Matrix, or vice versa, as they bear on that question. This short essay should be between 1250-1500 words long,

What do I mean by ‘in a concrete way’ and ‘in the form of an argumentative essay’? Your short essay must do the following, each of which will be worth 2 points, with 1.8 – 2 points in the ‘A’ range (excellent), 1.6 – 1.8 points in the ‘B’ range (good), and so on. I’ll provide a more detailed rubric later this week.

FIRST: The essay must begin with a paragraph that includes (i) a thesis statement describing what position you plan to argue for and (ii) a key supporting claim: the most interesting — and most controversial — premise of your argument for this position, and the premise you plan to spend the most time developing and defending.  Find out more information from

SECOND: The essay must then spend at least a paragraph or two describing some specific characters, plot points, themes, and motifs of The Matrix that you plan to analyze using concepts and arguments from Plato, Descartes, Bostrom, and Chalmers, and/or vice versa. 

THIRD: The essay must then turn to one of the questions above and argue for a specific answer to it, using whatever materials from the readings or The Matrix are relevant. You don’t need to regiment the argument in numbered premise-conclusion form, but you do need to clearly and carefully describe your reasoning step-by-step.

FOURTH: Finally, the essay must then develop and defend the key supporting claim: that includes explaining what good reasons there are for believing that it is true — reasons that could convince someone else to adopt your view — and arguing against potential objections.   

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