Metaphysics, Epistemology and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)

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Metaphysics, Epistemology and Orwell's 1984

Since the beginning of recorded time, philosophers have pondered questions of metaphysics (what exists, what is real) and epistemology (how we know what exists and is real, our proof). However in George Orwell's 1984, the need to answer these questions no longer exists for the majority, as the ruling party has created a new reality for its citizens, one in which what is real and what truly exists cannot be questioned. But on the flip side, the protagonist of 1984, Winston Smith, finds himself constantly searching for what is real in his life, and in a larger sense, in the society and world that surrounds him.

In its simplest terms, metaphysics can be seen as a question of
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Once a citizen is convinced through the constant presence of Big Brother, there is no need for proof of his existence, leaving no room for epistemology. Conversely, Winston Smith begins to explore the metaphysical question of whether Big Brother truly exists in the same way that he himself exists. Unlike the majority of the citizens, Winston is equipped with the tools and intelligence that are required to question the aims of the party. This intelligence, when combined with his constant questioning and need to find the answers leads to Winston's capture and reintegration, (brainwashing) after which he is made to believe that Big Brother exists. He does not know that Big Brother exists; he has no epistemological proof, just a manufactured belief. As O'Brien states, "Of course he exists. The Party exists. Big Brother is the embodiment of the Party" (214). It is never explicitly expressed that Big Brother exists in the flesh to Winston or to the reader. Rather Winston falls victim to the efforts of the party, believing with no solid proof that Big Brother exists. And the reader deduces from the text that Big Brother does not exist as a living being, but rather a character, an icon, "the embodiment of the Party." The reader knows in a metaphysical sense that Big Brother does not exist as a person, but rather as a character or a tool of propaganda.

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