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Inception and the Philosophy of Pragmatism

Updated on February 25, 2016
Inception movie poster
Inception movie poster

When the Dream is Real

For all the interesting science-fiction elements and the exploration of the psycho-physical nature of dreaming Inception is ultimately grounded in basic principles of philosophical pragmatism.

Advanced Warning

If you haven’t seen Inception you may not want to continue reading this article as there will be some spoilers.

Pragmatism in a Nutshell

At the core of the philosophy of Pragmatism is essentially an axiom that states that if an idea works, it is true (Sahakian 151). Basically if there are consequences to what we believe then what we believe is real, and the thrust of Inception’s plot hinges on this concept. The main external conflict in the movie is the attempt to make Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy) believe what the inception team wants him to believe, namely that he should break apart his energy business empire.

What's the most resilient parasite? An Idea

From the outset many characters believe this process of convincing someone to believe in a planted idea is either impossible or too difficult to bother attempting. Even Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) explains that even if the inception works they’ll have no power to predict or control the range of effects that will arise from planting the idea. He warns inception may fundamentally alter Fischer and his behavior as Cobb previously witness with Mal.

In order to affect the desired change Cobb enters Fischer’s dreams and attacks his emotionally turbulent paternal relationship, culminating in a tender moment of deathbed reconciliation and catharsis. That this event and the reveal of the beloved and sentimental artifact in the safe is most likely not factual or real in an objective sense is inconsequential. The fact that Fischer believes in this cathartic moment is what is required to reshape his character and convince him to dissolve his multi-national energy empire. His belief in the transformative event is more important than whether or not it really occurred.

The cast of Inception at a premiere in July 2010. From left to right is Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Michael Caine, and Leonardo DiCaprio.  Posted by Craig Grobler at http://www.theestablishingshot
The cast of Inception at a premiere in July 2010. From left to right is Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Michael Caine, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Posted by Craig Grobler at http://www.theestablishingshot

A Dream Seems Real as Long as You’re in It

Because it is the belief in the reconciliation that creates consequences and yields practical results Inception inherently presents a world anchored by the philosophy of Pragmatism.  The film teaches its characters not to trust in their senses since they can be deceived, and because the audience members—just like the characters—likely have trouble knowing when the movie is in a dream and when it is in the waking world the whole concept of an objective reality is up for questioning.  All that is left to trust then are ideas and even if those ideas are not true in an abstract sense, they become true and real so long as those ideas are believed.

Sources

Sahakian, William, Sahakian, Mabel.  Ideas of the Great Philosophers.  New York: Barnes & Noble, 1969.

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    • msorensson profile image

      msorensson 6 years ago

      My son has already seen it and told me all about it but I will still see it when it comes to DVD.

      The idea is not new..this is how remote viewing works. The presentation and having Di Caprio there is what made the movie such a hit.

      Thanks, I enjoyed the hub.

    • satomko profile image
      Author

      Seth Tomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thank you for your comments, msorensson, and I hope you enjoy the movie when you get a chance to see it.

    • poetvix profile image

      poetvix 6 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

      Really interesting premise behind the movie. Thanks for the overview... now I'm gonna watch it.

    • satomko profile image
      Author

      Seth Tomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thanks for stopping by, poetvix. Let me know what you think of the movie.

    • John Yeoman profile image

      John Yeoman 6 years ago from Story writing land in the centre of England

      True. Truth is what works. What 'works' is anything that reinforces our belief system. Such a system exists to reinforce our belief that we exist. That belief appears to be important. And it must be continually fortified. As Descartes didn't say: Cogitum ergo sum. 'I am because I am thought about.'

      In a lucid dream, reality is more real than reality. I know. I've been there. So what is reality? Whatever fortifies our belief system. This communication is not 'real'. I am talking to myself. In a self-reflexive simulacrum.

      But do, please, respond. It will fortify my belief system. I will know that I, at least, exist. But how can I ever 'really' know that, outside of my own simulacrum, you exist? :)

      Indeed, what is reality?

    • tracykarl99 profile image

      Tracy 6 years ago from San Francisco

      A very philosophical analysis! I'm hooked ~ now I must see the movie, but I have a feeling that it won't be as interesting as your review!

    • satomko profile image
      Author

      Seth Tomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

      Indeed, John Yeoman, and I believe the nature of the movie is more inspire questions and debates like these rather than provide definitive answers to inquiries on the nature of reality.

    • satomko profile image
      Author

      Seth Tomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thanks, tracykarl99, but I'd have to say the movie is much better than any analysis I cold write.

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 6 years ago

      Enjoyed your overview - gives the movie some deeper interest, thanks for that.

    • satomko profile image
      Author

      Seth Tomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

      No problem, billyaustindillon. Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you keep writing your own good hubs, too.

    • Kaie Arwen profile image

      Kaie Arwen 6 years ago

      Okay............ I didn't finish reading.......... thanks for the heads up on surprises, but I'll be back after I've seen the film. Count on it! Kaie

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      I did really enjoy the movie, even with all the layers. Thanks for explaining it better for me. I think I need to watch it again now that I have a better insight.

    • satomko profile image
      Author

      Seth Tomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

      You're welcome, Kaie. I hope you enjoy the film.

    • satomko profile image
      Author

      Seth Tomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

      I recommend seeing it more than once, elayne001. You'll discover something new on different viewings.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

      Thank you for this cogent review. I have not yet seen the film, but I surely will soon. My daughter's fiancé told me the other day that it was "the best movie I ever saw." That is quite an endorsement.

    • satomko profile image
      Author

      Seth Tomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thanks for stopping by, James. Clearly I recommend the movie, and I hope to hear your thoughts on it after you get around to seeing it.

    • Stevennix2001 profile image

      Steven Escareno 6 years ago

      wow, you were right. it does sound like we had almost the exact same opinion on this film. plus, i loved how you went into detail over the psychological aspects of the movie. Great review Satomko.

    • satomko profile image
      Author

      Seth Tomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thank you, Stevennix, and I enjoyed your review, too.

    • SteveoMc profile image

      SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      I haven't seen it yet either, but I could not stop reading. It just makes me want to see it more. Nothing spoiled. Thanks.

    • satomko profile image
      Author

      Seth Tomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thank you, SteveoMc. I'm glad I didn't ruin the movie for you, and I hope to hear what you think about it after seeing it.

    • Rudra profile image

      Rudra 6 years ago

      Very interesting on the philosophy of pragmatism.

    • satomko profile image
      Author

      Seth Tomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thank you, Rudra. I appreciate your readership.

    • ashleyyoung profile image

      ashleyyoung 6 years ago from United States

      Very intriguing. I missed this movie (perhaps the only Leo Dicaprio movie that I missed) due to warrants of work, but your take on the philosophy on which the movie is based on is very interesting. It sure aroused the Sci Fi fanatic within me! :)

      I'll definitely watch it on DVD. Which reminds me, is it available on DVD yet?

    • profile image

      Naresh Kokal 6 years ago

      Wow! what an insight, incited to watch (-;

    • satomko profile image
      Author

      Seth Tomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thank you, ashleyyoung and Naresh. The movie isn't available yet, but I strongly encourage you to watch it as soon as you can.

    • jayb23 profile image

      jayb23 6 years ago from India

      This is an amazing hub satmko. It made my mind to think. I have downloaded the movie..im off to watch it.

    • satomko profile image
      Author

      Seth Tomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thanks for your comments, jayb23. I hope you enjoy the film.

    • petersimon profile image

      petersimon 6 years ago from UK

      Thanks. Nice hub, great movie.

    • azimimpossible profile image

      azimimpossible 6 years ago from Jaipur

      NOW THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST FANTASTIC MOVIE I HAD EVER SEEN.STILL COULDN'T GET IT.THANKS,NICE HUB.

    • loveofnight profile image

      loveofnight 5 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      I found this movie fascinating, the whole idea of imbedding ideas into someone's mind. So many movies such as this one stem from reality.I am in agreement with msorensson in that this idea is nothing new. But it is a must see movie for sci-fi buffs. Thx 4 share

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