so as the title suggest I am wondering how epistemology is presented in blade runner. I know that epistemology in basic terms is "how we know what we know", and that is presented through the replicants in the film and how despite the fact that they believe the life they live is free it truly isn't. I believe there is more to than just that but I can't think it though. So if someone can enlighten me it would be much appreciated.
Epistemology in basic terms is not only "how we know what we know" which should be more appropriately called methodology. To really possibly enlighten you, you may think of epistemology as an impossible mission like a philosophical paradox, this paradox is called Problem of the criterion first espoused by Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus 2000 years ago in written format.
In Western philosophy the earliest surviving documentation of the problem of the criterion is in the works of the Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus. In Outlines of Pyrrhonism Sextus Empiricus demonstrated that no criterion of truth had been established, contrary to the position of dogmatists such as the Stoics and their doctrine of katalepsis. In this Sextus was repeating or building upon earlier Pyrrhonist arguments about the problem of the criterion, as Pyrrho, the founder of Pyrrhonism, had declared that "neither our sense-perceptions nor our doxai (views, theories, beliefs) tell us the truth or lie.
American philosopher Roderick Chisholm in his Theory of Knowledge details the problem of the criterion with two sets of questions:
- What do we know? or What is the extent of our knowledge?
- How do we know? or What is the criterion for deciding whether we have knowledge in any particular case?
One cannot have an answer to the first set of questions without first answering the second set, and one cannot hope to answer the second set of questions without first knowing the answers to the first set...Is this enlightening enough for you?
"How does one fashion a book of resistance, a book of truth in an empire of falsehood, or a book of rectitude in an empire of vicious lies? How does one do this right in front of the enemy?" -from Only Apparently Real by Paul Williams, a biography of Philip K Dick
Bladerunner is only loosely based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (DADES), but I would argue it's preoccupations are those of PKD.
Who is 'more alive'? Batty is condemned to a short four year life. Decker, also a replicant, seems to have at least a normal human lifespan - he though does not live with the intensity of Batty. Might the finitude and ephemerality, directly relate to intensity? In DADES nothing biological can replicate reliably, the animals have been going extinct but have been replaced by increasingly realistic models, and Decker begins to wonder about humans. The animals, and the humans, are like ghosts, in ruins, not seeking actual aliveness, but only to 'pass', to seem alive. Nothing generative, or creative remains, only a trajectory of decay. Bladerunner is positively cheerful by comparison.
What is real? Valis, PKDs semi-autobiography, gives maybe the clearest picture of how his schizophrenia and drug use made this a very pressing question for him. Doubting the evidence of memories, of seeming to have had bodily continuity, and fearing manipulation and distortion of memory by unknown forces for nefarious aims, return as themes again and again. A Scanner Darkly has also been described as semi-autobiographical, and feels like a mental health crisis in science fiction wrapping.
His themes have proved timely, prescient. Durkheim's anomie, Nietzsche's picture of nihilism. Fake news, being tired of experts, and the scope of digital forgery. Identity, memory, digital minds. Murky corporations and religious organisations, literally viral ideas.
"It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism" -Frederic Jameson or Slavoj Zizek
A future like that has no way to resist those dytopic elements, if they can be commodified. And they are.
PKD found a way to be with his extreme paranoia, constant suspicion about what is real, and sense that his identity was or could fragment at any time. Valis finishes in an oddly optimistic way, he finds a path through writing, through a kind of play with his epistemological foundations, that linked his existential uncertainties to his creativity, to imagining a world unmoored from secure foundations it has taken for granted, identity & reality themselves.
In a world that seems set on creating an increasingly schizophrenic dystopia built on lies, his 'books of resistence' are likely only to grow in relevance, and usefulness as guides. So far at least 19 films based on his work have been made.
You might like this article Resisting "The World": PKD, Cultural Studies, & Metaphysical Realism.