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The Theory of Knowledge in 12 Angry Men

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The movie “12 Angry Men” is about the process of reaching a verdict by a jury. There are twelve men charged with this task. In order to reach a conclusion all the jurors must agree on the final decision. At the beginning of our story eleven jurors out of twelve agree that a boy, who is accused of having killed his father, is guilty. From this point a big discussion starts on whether or not the boy is guilty. As a first thing the eleven jurors begin to tell one by one why they believe he is guilty and the only one who does not agree tries to convince the others. In order to do so, all of them unaware use various ways of knowing that we studied. In our life we are continuously surrounded by situation where different ways of knowing are involved, from when we wake up to when we go to sleep with the certainty that the morning after we’ll get up again, or that the sun will rise again. There are several ways of knowing that we covered so far, and my aim is to define all of them and try to find correspondence in “12 Angry Men”.

First of all, I would like to talk about emotion as I think that ut’s probably the most used way of knowing, especially in this movie. Emotion has a powerful role in shaping thoughts and in influencing our behaviours; there are differents points of view that define it, some define emotion as any mental experience with high intensity and high hedonic content, scientists see emotion as biological states, electrochemical reactions, while psychologist state that is just about conscious experience. We can see clearly the effect of emotions on humans in the movie, especially from the juror number three. From the beginning he strongly believes that the boy is guilty and deserves to be sent to the chair. Just at the end we discover why actually he’s involved with emotions, he fought with his son and now they don’t talk anymore, this is a typical example of how emotion can affect the reasoning. Perception is another extremely present and common way of knowing. Since the plot is all about a process, every jurors listening in court develop an idea based on their perception. Later on we discover also that the boy is Mexican and has a violent record, these two things feed the growth of generalization from some jurors, especially the number ten that also addresses at the Mexicans saying “them” underlining his racist thought. Moreover at a certain point some say “He is guilty because he looks guilty”, this is an enormous generalization based on perception which link me to talk about logical fallacies, another interesting TOK topic, which explores all the possible argumentation that weaken an argument. In this case we’re talking about a “Hasty generalization” which means that someone is basing its claims making assumption about someone else or something bringing inadequate examples to support it.

The next point I would like to talk about is rationalism, which can be defined as the use of reason. There exist two types of reasoning, deductive and inductive. The first involve case where, given some information, the conclusion must be truth and the second one does not involve certainty, but involves in looking at particular events and making generalisations. In the movie they are both used; the inductive reasoning actually is strictly linked to the “Hasty generalization” that I mentioned before as just based on the fact that the boy lived not in a proper peaceful community and that his violent record is not empty send the jurors towards the verdict of guilty. The deductive reasoning is used in a specific moment when, given all the data, the jurors re-act the scene of the old man that was walking in the house coming up with a new conclusion that feed the doubt in the mind of some jurors.

However the most important example of reasoning is given by the juror number eight when he convince the others that there is a reasonable doubt and the boy shouldn’t be considered straight forward as guilty. Furthermore he use deductive reasoning also to demonstrate the weakness of the prove of the woman looking from the other side of the road. The ways of argue and deduce of the juror number eight are also linked to the language and his capacity of using it for its own purpose. This brings me to think about jurors number four which at the very beginning is voting for guilty because he believes that the court has proven the defendant to be so. Following the reasoning of the number eight, however he changes his vote in “not guilty”. Some people in TOK also debate over the “linguistic determinism” which is the idea that the language determine the way you think.Another fundamental way of knowing is memory. Memory allow us to retain information and reconstruct past experiences, which means in concrete that we learnt how to do everything when we were child and now we can do everything we do just because we remember how to do it. Normally in TOK we discuss about memory arguing whether it is reliable or not, how does it work… In order to give an answer to these questions we can say that memory is not particularly reliable, although an extreme big number of people rely on their memories everyday. We can quote as an example numerous illnesses that affect our capacity of remember such as dementia and alzheimer. For what concern the “how does it work”, we could say that if we’re remembering an experience from our childhood, it’s not the original that we are recalling, you are recalling the last time you thought about this experience.

To make it more understandable I’ll use this theory; “if you were to photocopy a photograph every time you wanted to look at it, and only were able to keep the copy how much detail would remain?”. However linked to “12 Angry Men” is not this concept of memory but another one, from my point of view, even more complex. I’m talking about memory that link with emotion, for instance the juror number five. At the beginning he agree with all the others saying that the boy is guilty, after the others start to talk about the slums where the boy is from the juror has a moment of doubt as he is from a slum too, and he start to try to defend his personal reputation. Another time a juror changes his mind because of the emotion, in this case brought in by the memory, and not because of reasoning.

The main topic also could be identified in Ethics, which is a set of personal beliefs that act as guidelines for the behavior of a person, as the job of the jurors is to decide whether to send or not a boy to the chair. At the beginning, for everyone, seems to be quite easy as a decision to take, a part for the number eight, as they are sure of the guilt of the child. In order to change their minds the juror number eight uses the argumentation of the presence of reasonable doubt, and as we know he will reach his target, in a way or another, of persuade all the eleven jurors.

Everything considered we can say that “12 Angry Men” explore in a very deep way most of the way of knowledge, allowing us to discuss about it. Furthermore in the end, although the verdict is “not guilty” we don’t really know if the boy is guilty or not, so also we are left with a sort of “reasonable doubt”, and this shows another time how TOK can’t fully prove anything.

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