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The movie “The Matrix” (TM) is a movie that lends itself to philosophical speculation. It is a kind of grab-bag of epistemological, ontological, and religious concepts. Viewing it, this writer discerned, inter alia, concepts from Zen Buddhism, Vedanta, radical empiricism, Social Darwinism, Nietzsche, post-modernism, and the social and economic theories of Rousseau and Karl Marx. It is the latter two that will be discussed in this paper.
The “Matrix” depicted in the movie, if I understand it correctly, involves the following. It is the apparent world of an apparent human society. It is an essentially illusory world controlled by computer programs. It is the creation of advanced beings whose forebears were the products of human researches into artificial intelligence, forebears who evolved into a controlling intelligence(s) whose goal is the final extirpation of the last true and free, true and free because existing outside the “Matrix,” remnants of the human race. It uses the victims inside the “Matrix” as a source of energy. With respect to all humans its program is to create them and expend them like flash light batteries.
For our purposes TM can be viewed as a metaphor for the human society of the present and recent past, that is, modern and post-modern times. As such TM embodies many positions which would not have been at all unfamiliar to Rousseau and Marx. As I shall attempt to show, both of these great theorists would have agreed with much of what is espoused in the movie. Their opinions on the issues raised by it would have differed on certain details, but, on the major points, would have been roughly congruent.
Let us begin with a point that is obvious and general, but which should be explicitly stated because it is the foundation for everything else that will follow in this paper. TM represents a point of view shared by both Rousseau and Marx. That is, TM expresses a sense of alienation from the ordinary world and ordinary values. We here use the term “alienation” in a psychological sense, as indicating a state of being withdrawn, detached, and somewhat antagonistic to the status quo, a sense on the part of those who experience alienation that they are “in the world, but not of it.” We do not mean “alienated” or “alienation” in the somewhat specialized sense used by Marx when he spoke of “alienated labor” or in terms of the “alienation” of the individual and his rights in favor of society that appears in Rousseau’s The Social Contract.