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The Terminator and Philosophy

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Many of us loved the Terminator series that was recently finished with Terminator: Salvation (with the possibly exception of Terminator 3). We knew these films had some hints of philosophical themes, especially time travel and artificial intelligence; but what Terminator and Philosophy shows us is that it has many more deep issues than we were aware, ranging from morality, marxism, and fate, to Descartes, CamusHobbes and Hegel.

What is a person? What makes a person different from other living things?... from machines? Could the machines in Terminator be considered people? From the T101's perspective (Arnauld), he seems just as human as Sara and John Conner. After all, he can do almost anything they can. This resembles a theory of personhood brought forth by Alan Turing, who thought that if a machine could "trick" you into thinking it was a person, then the machine is a person. From Sara's perspective, machines are nothing but soulless fakers that carry out pre-determined commands. This resembles Rene Descartes' idea that a person is defined by having a soul, or "inner principle" of thought, which has private conscious experiences. And John Conner seems to hold a middle position of understanding, shown by his constant attempts at teaching the T101 how to be a person.

Is it right to commit a wrong for the greater good?...or are there some things you simply cannot do? Here we explore the moral theories of Benthem and Mill's utilitarianism and Kant's deontology. Sara, especially in her plot to kill Dyson and Skynet, agrees with utilitarianism that sometimes the "end justifies the means." But John, like a good Kantian, sees that murder is never justified--"you just can't go around killing people!".

Among other themes are the Marxist idea that technology, when only backed by greed and profit, will lead to the conclusion of capitalism and the destruction of our race; and the conflict over fate and free will, and whether the future can actually be changed; and Hegel's idea that history is determined by the unfolding of the "Gist," or mind.


Terminator and Philosophy

Posted by Matt Smith at 07/24/2009 06:17:06 PM