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The Epistemic Puzzle of Rashomon

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Rashomon Gate - from the movie[What follows are some thoughts on the movie Rashomon. These were prepared for a class I teach on critical thinking in law. If you haven't seen the movie, you can watch it for free, online, here.]Rashomon is one the great films of the 20th century. Directed by Akira Kurosawa and released in 1950, it is a film that is perhaps known more by reputation and allusion than by actual viewing. The central plot device — multiple characters recounting the same events all with slight but significant variations — has passed into the popular imagination. So much so that the word “Rashomon” is now synonymous with the kind of epistemic problem that arises from conflicting testimony. This problem is faced in many disciplines, perhaps most notably in law.I recently watched the movie Rashomon with one of my classes. I did so as an exercise in critical thinking. I wanted to use the movie as a way to easily illustrate the problem that we often face when dealing with conflicting testimony from different witnesses. I wanted students to approach the movie as an epistemological puzzle in which they had to use their critical faculties to figure out which narrative was most likely to be true.I appreciate that some people will see this exercise as completely wrongheaded. They think the movie is intended to present a kind of epistemological nihilism. The point is not to ask which story is true but, rather, to realise that the ’Truth’ is elusive. Perhaps there is no such thing. Donald Richie, for example, in one of his essays about the movie suggests that this is the major theme of all of Kurosawa’s work: the world is an illusion that we construct through our interpretations of it.I’m not sure what the correct analysis of the movie is. I suspect, like many artistic works, the movie allows for multiple interpretations and I think the ‘epistemological puzzle’ interpretation is a valid one. The movie is asking us to understand different errors and deceptions that. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

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