Knowledge and the Search for Truth (Course Companion)

1. Take a book you’ve read recently and answer the four questions on this page (page 90).

I chose to answer the questions about the book I most recently finished, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

  • Out of all possible topics or ideas regarding knowledge, what have the authors selected to give you?

The author uses the device of an unreliable narrator whose sanity is slipping, particularly by the end of the book, when Patrick Bateman is clearly hallucinating (although some may argue that he had been all along). The knowledge that we receive from his predominately first-person narration may not even be true in the context of the fictional novel. In addition, within the novel, Patrick attempts to confess to his crimes many times but no one believes he is telling the truth or they simply do not pay enough attention to process what he is saying. The truth is ignored repeatedly throughout the book.

  • Out of those topics and ideas treated, what have they emphasized, and how?

I think that the unreliability of Patrick as the narrator is really emphasized, especially as time goes on. In the beginning of the book, it seems much more like a period piece of the 80’s presented somewhat “normally”. However, as the book progresses, reading about it through the eyes and mind of such a deranged character warps it into something near a dystopia. This is contrasted to when the book does reference something firmly grounded in history (often a famous musician or band), when you are reminded that this is supposedly something that happened in the United States in a real period of history.

  • What kind of language have they used, and what emotions or values do you identify in the word choice? What images of photographs, drawings, or diagrams accompany the text, and how are they, too, selected and used?

The language that Patrick used is very frequently cold and without emotion, which helps to portray him as a psychopath. If there is an emotion to be associated with the word choice, it is almost always anger. The author makes the choice to include lots of descriptive words about the clothes, technology, and extravagant food of Patrick and everyone that surrounds him, sometimes filling pages simply with these paragraphs. Not only does this show the extreme superficiality of this world, it also contrasts greatly with the complete lack of description of people, their emotions, and personalities. There are no photographs to accompany the novel, except for the cover. It shows what I would imagine to be our titular “American psycho”, Patrick Bateman, looking cold and unfeeling but still undeniably human. The exterior, which looks like that of any man, evidently does not match the inhuman psyche beneath it.

  • What is the context in which the book is written – by whom, for what purpose, and within what framework of declared and implicit values?

I really would like to ask Bret Easton Ellis what compelled him to write such a horrifying book. It begins as a bit of a social commentary on the superficiality of the “yuppies” of the eighties, but becomes increasingly shocking and disgusting. The purpose is, I suppose, an extreme example of the danger of superficiality, self-centeredness, and objectification of humans. It works within the implied framework that the actions of Patrick Bateman are horribly, horribly wrong.

2. Read the green box from Yeshey of Bhutan. Then read about and watch Thomas Pettitt, a Danish philosopher, discuss the Gutenberg Parenthesis and his view on books. Answer the following questions.

  • What are your thoughts about the sanctity of books and how did you arrive to your decision?

I think that a physical book is simply two covers and a bunch of paper held together by some glue, created by a machine. The physical manifestation of the ideas held in the book isn’t a holy thing, and harming a book in no way harms its ideas. I understand that there is symbolic value in harming a book that stands for something you do not agree with (such as burning a Bible or a Koran) but I think a book only has as much value as we assign to it. If we choose not to be more upset when our favorite book is ripped than when a blank book is ripped (as it doesn’t affect the ideas contained within whatsoever), then there is nothing wrong with it. However, I don’t recommend destroying books for the fun of it. It’s wasteful, just to prove a philosophical point.

  • Do books really “hold learning”?

Can anything really “hold learning”? I don’t think so. Learning isn’t a physical thing, and it can’t be held, not even by a teacher. Books can undoubtedly help us learn, that’s true, and some may have more potential for learning than others, but a book can’t force you to learn anything. Not everyone will learn the same thing from a book; in fact, not everyone will learn anything from a book.

  • How would you rate where you get knowledge – media (various), books, teachers, family, friends, celebrities, etc.?

I think I probably get the majority of my practical knowledge from the people I surround myself with, namely family and friends. My “book” knowledge comes mainly from teachers. My often random but always interesting knowledge comes from books and the internet, because these are the things that I use to seek out information that I personally want to know, not that a curriculum or any people think I need to know. I think that each source can’t be rated easily, because their reliability changes for each fact that I learn.



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