Home > History, Philosophy > Terminator and Philosophy: I’ll Be Back, Therefore I Am

Terminator and Philosophy: I’ll Be Back, Therefore I Am

John Wiley & Sons 2009 | 304 Pages | ISBN: 0470447982 |PDF

Are cyborgs our friends or our enemies?

Was it morally right for Skynet to nuke us?

Is John Connor free to choose to defend humanity, or not?

Is Judgment Day inevitable?

The Terminator series is one of the most popular sci-fi franchises ever created, captivating millions with its edgy depiction of the struggle of humankind for survival against its own creations. This book draws on some of history’s philosophical heavy hitters: Descartes, Kant, Karl Marx, and many more. Nineteen leather-clad chapters target with extreme prejudice the mysteries surrounding intriguing philosophical issues raised by the Terminator series, including the morality of terminating other people for the sake of peace, whether we can really use time travel to protect our future resistance leaders in the past, and if Arnold’s famous T-101 is a real person or not. You’ll say “Hasta la vista, baby” to philosophical confusion as you develop a new appreciation for the complexities of John and Sarah Connor and the battles between Skynet and the human race.

The Rise of the Philosophers

Judgment Day, as they say, is inevitable. Though when exactly it happens is debatable.

It was originally supposed to happen on August 29, 1997, but the efforts of Sarah Connor, her son, John, and the model T – 101 Terminator postponed it until 2004. We see it actually happen in the less – than – spectacular Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines . But in the new television series The Sarah Connor Chronicles , we find out that it has been postponed until 2011, and apparently, from the details we can glean so far as to the plot of Terminator: Salvation , it actually occurs in 2018. This kind of temporal confusion can make you as dizzy as Kyle Reese going through the time – travel process in The Terminator. Along the way, however, James Cameron’s Terminator saga has given us gripping plots and great action.

Clearly, Judgment Day makes for great movies. But if you’re wondering why Judgment Day might inspire the work of deep thinkers, consider that philosophy, war, and catastrophe have been strange bedfellows, especially in modern times. At the dawn of the eighteenth century, the optimistic German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (1646 – 1716) declared that he lived in “ the best of all possible worlds, ” a view that was shaken — literally — by a massive earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1755. After Leibniz, no European philosopher took his “glass half full” worldview quite so seriously again.

One hundred years after Leibniz wrote these perhaps regrettable words, Napoleon was taking over most of Europe. Another German, Georg W. F. Hegel (1770 – 1831), braved the shelling of the city of Jena to deliver the manuscript for his best – known book, the Phenomenology of Spirit. Again, Hegel had occasion for regret, as he had considered at an earlier point dedicating the book to the Emperor Bonaparte himself! More than a hundred years later, critical theorist Theodor Adorno (1903 – 1969) fled Germany in the shadow of the Nazi rise. His work as a philosopher of culture in England, then America, centered on the idea that philosophy could never be the same after the tragedy of Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

Despite war and catastrophe, these philosophers persevered in asking deep and difficult questions; they resisted a retreat to the irrational and animalistic, despite the most horrifying events. In this respect, philosophy in difficult times is a lot like the human resistance to Skynet and the Terminators: it calls upon the best of what we are in order to stave off the sometimes disastrous effects of the darker side of our nature. Besides the questions raised about the moral status of the Terminator robots and its temporal paradoxes, the Terminator saga is founded on an apparent paradox in human nature itself — that we humans have begun to create our own worst nightmares. How will we cope when the enemy is of our own making?

To address this question and many others, we’ve enlisted the most brilliant minds in the human resistance against the machines. When the T-101 explains that Skynet has his CPU factory preset to “read-only,” Sarah quips, “ Doesn’t want you to do too much thinking, huh? ”The Terminator agrees. Well, you’re not a Terminator (we hope!) and we’re not Skynet; we want you to think. But we understand why Skynet would want to limit the T-101’s desire to learn and think new thoughts.

Thinking is hard work, often uncomfortable, and sometimes it leads you in unexpected directions. Terminators are not the only ones who are factory preset against thinking. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) once famously remarked, “ Many people would rather die than think; in fact, most do. ” We want to help switch your CPU from read – only to learning mode, so that when Judgment Day comes, you can help lead the resistance, as Leibniz, Hegel, and Adorno did in their day. But it ’ s not all hard work and dangerous missions. The issues may be profound and puzzling, but we want your journey into the philosophy of the Terminator to be entertaining as well as edifying.

Hasta la vista, ignorance!


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