Epistemology is the nature of knowledge. Knowledge is important when considering what is reality and what is deception. The movie The Matrix displays a social deception in which Neo, the main character, is caught between what he thought was once reality and a whole new world that controls everything he thought was real. If I were Neo, I would not truly be able to know that I was in the matrix. However, it is rational to believe that I am in the matrix and will eventually enter back into my reality later. The proof that that I can know that I am in the matrix and that I will return to reality comes from the responses of foundationalism, idealism, and pallibalism.
To begin, foundationalism is the essence of what we are certain of. Many philosophers argue on the basis of foundationalism to find out where knowledge begins. This will help determine if Neo would be able to know or not know if he is dreaming up the matrix or in fact that it is reality. The popularity of foundationalism starts with Descartes. He challenged the previously popular skepticism. In Descartes Meditations he discusses many issues relating to the question of where does knowledge come from? His main arguments appear in his dreaming argument. He first begins by stating 1. I often have perceptions very much like the ones I usually have in sensation while I am dreaming. Then he goes on to say 2. There are no definite signs to distinguish dream experience from waking experience. These two premises lead to the conclusion that 3. It is possible that I am dreaming right now and that all my perceptions are false. This shows that there is no real way to know to know anything. Descartes add to his argument using foundationalism. Throughout my writings I have made it clear that my method imitates that of the architect. When an architect wants to build a house which is stable on ground where there is a sandy topsoil over underlying rock, or clay, or some other firm base, he begins by digging out a set of trenches from which he removes the sand, and anything resting on or mixed in with the sand, so that he can lay his foundations on firm soil. In the same way, I began by taking everything that was doubtful and throwing it out, like sand … (Replies 7, AT 7:537) (Lex, Newman).This explains how foundationalism works; you must remove all of your doubt to advance to the foundationtion of which you are sure of. This is called the method of doubt. Once you know what you are sure of, you can build up knowledge from there. Many wonder how we can wonder we are not dreaming. Some agree that you cannot feel pain in a dream, but others say they have. The argument that dreams are not related to memory is strong because most people do not remember their dreams. Descartes explains that in a dream you can feel as if you are using all of your senses, but they seem to be more vague than when awake. Descartes struggles with the dream issue until he comes upon his conclusion. I now notice that there is a vast difference between being asleep and being awake, in that dreams are never linked by memory with all the other actions of life as waking experiences are. … But when I distinctly see where things come from and where and when they come to me, and when I can connect my perceptions of them with the whole of the rest of my life without a break, then I am quite certain that when I encounter these things I am not asleep but awake. (Med. 6, AT 7:89-90) (Lex, Newman) This dream argument attributes to how we can know anything. For Neos sake it helps him decide weather he is really in the matrix or not.
In addition to foundationalism proving that knowledge is built up from what we are certain of, idealism plays an important role of arguing that all reality is in the mind. Descartes argument for idealism explains how knowledge of reality is possible. He goes through the process of using an example like a pen and justifying its existence. There are 3 steps to this process: 1. I know I perceive the pen. 2. To exist is to be perceived (Berkeley). 3. I know the pen exists. Another philosopher, Berkeley, argues esse est percipi, which translates to to be is to be perceived. This means that if you are perceived you exist and the same thing goes for reality. There are issues that argue against idealism; one of these arguments is that we have no conception of unperceived matter. As soon as you perceive it you can conceive it. The only problems with this argument are the fact that many people perceive the distant path. An example of this is the Big Bang theory. Also the perception of the atom and distant galaxies furthermore cause a problem. So idealism still stands strong. Neos perception of the matrix exists so therefor Neo believes that the matrix is real.
Yet there remains one more response to furthermore prove that Neo is rational to believe he is in the matrix. This is the response to Pallibalism, the theory that knowledge does not require certainty. This response goes about saying that we are certain of our minds and our own existence. Neo has knowledge of the matrix, but there is no certainty with his knowledge. Noe is able to perceive the surroundings around him in the matrix and he can be sure he is not dreaming, but he can not know for sure if the matrix is truly real. The case for this is that he could be just a brain in a Vat in a giant virtual reality. Another example similar to The Matrix is The Trueman Show. In this case it is a local deception rather than a social deception. Pallibalism agrees with foundationalism and idealism in the fact that knowledge is an abstract notion and the only thing that one can be certain of is them selves.
Clearly then, foundationalism, idealism, and pallibalism all fit together to prove that Neo can not be certain of the matrix, but only himself. Also it further explains how it is rational for him to believe that the matrix exists through his perception of the matrix and the knowledge he obtains when he is there. The growth of knowledge in Neos mind is possible what is his deception. The more he perceives could possible be more he is deceived. What we know about reality is all in our minds and if we can only be certain of ourselves and our own existence then the reality that we perceive and conceive does exist. So the answer is yes, Neo can know that he is in the matrix, but this does not necessarily mean the matrix exists. As far as Neo knows the matrix does exist and that he will return to what he thought was his reality later, knowing that there is more than just his world.
Newman, Lex, Descartes Epistemology, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 1999 Edition), Edward N, Zalta (ed.), URL= http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spring1999/entries/Descartes