Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Fall 2011
Brandeis University Web Stite

Philosophy 1A

to Philosophy

Professor Andreas Teuber
Prof. Teuber


Matrix 1

SO what do you think? How can you know anything beyond your own impressions and experiences or whether the world is other than way it appears to you? Indeed, how can you be certain that you know anything, anything at all?

How can you know you are not a brain in a vat?

"I am not a brain in a vat.
I'm on the East Coast at Brandeis.

Or in a matrix?

"I am not in a matrix.
I'm in school at Brandeis, not in a matrix."

Yes, but how do you know?

"I know."

If you can't know that you're not a brain in a vat, then you can't know that any of your beliefs about the external world are true.

"Look at me! Go ahead, look at me!"
Do I look like a brain in a vat?"

AND if that's the case, there is "no way out of the cage of your own mind."

"That's ridiculous."

Is it?


Well, make a case then, go on, make a case for your knowing (or not knowing) you are not a brain in a vat, think of several powerful objections to your argument, and respond to them.

"How much time do I have?"

November 22nd. You have until 11:00 AM on the 22nd.

"That's not a lot of time.
Is there any reading I might do?"

Yes, you are likely to benefit from the readings in the Perry, Bratman and Fischer text:


You may also wish to view the movie, THE MATRIX again or if you have yet to see it, watch it for the first time. To make it available to everyone, we could not post it here, but we have posted it on the LATTE SITE for the INTRO course which is password protected, You can view it online there by going to the LATTE SITE and clicking on "The Matrix" in the right hand column under "LATTE Videos."

Here you can view the trailer and a short video on missed takes:

So, too, you may wish to take a quick peek at several of the essays written by philosophers on The Matrix:

  • "Dream Skepticism" by Christopher Grau
  • "Brians-in-a-Vat Skepticism" by Christopher Grau
  • "The Experience Machine" by Christopher Grau
  • "The Matrix as Metaphysics" by David J. Chalmers
  • "The Matrix of Dreams" by Colin McGinn
  • "The Brave New World of The Matrix" by Hubert and Stephen Dreyfus
  • "Reflections on the First Matrix" by Richard Hanley
  • "Reality, What Matters, and the Matrix " by Iakdvos Vasilou
  • "The Matrix - Our Future?" by Kevin Warwick
  • "What's So Bad About Living in The Matrix" by James Pryor
  • "Simulacra and Simulation" by Richard Hanley
  • "Artificial Ethics" by Julia Driver
  • "Gnosticism, Buddhism and The Matrix" by Dailey and Wagner
  • "Neo's Freedom . . . Whoa!" by Michael McKenna
  • "Plato's 'Cave' and The Matrix" by John Partridge

    You may (also) find a glance back at the Russell on "Appearance and Being", the first chapter of Problems of Philosophy to be helpful.

    But again, to paraphrase what one, very good contemporary philosopher, J. R. Lucas, has said:

    "Philosophy has to be self-thought, if it is to be thought at all. It is an activity rather than a set of positions. You need to think out the problems and solutions for yourself, and although another person's philosophizing may help you in your own, you cannot accept their conclusions, or even understand their arguments, until you have already argued a lot with yourself."

    As with the other topics you should feel free to talk to others in the class as well as to talk to family and friends, to show your parents brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and friends the paper topic, to brainstorm and consult with them. If you feel confident about your answer, it may help to ask others what they think is wrong with your answer as well as to ask if they think you may have overlooked something and if so, what?

    And in making your case, please do not feel shy about drawing on the readings from the Perry, Bratman and Fischer Introduction to Philosophy text for support or objection to one or more of your arguments


    "Thanks. I think I need it."


    [PHIL 1A] [Syllabus] [Handouts] [Home] [Bio] [CV] [PHIL DEPT.] [E-MAIL]

    Send comments to: Andreas Teuber
    Last Modified: 11/05/11
    Instructor's Toolkit
    Copyright © The President and Fellows of Harvard College