The Terminator and Philosophy: Call for Abstracts

The Terminator and Philosophy

Edited by Richard Brown and Kevin S. Decker

The Blackwell Philosophy and Popular Culture Series

Please circulate and post widely.

Apologies for Cross-posting.

To propose ideas for future volumes in the Blackwell series please contact the Series Editor, William Irwin, at

Abstracts and subsequent essays should be philosophically substantial but accessible, written to engage the intelligent lay reader. Contributors of accepted essays will receive an honorarium.

Possible themes and topics might include, but are not limited to, the following:

“Can We Really Change the Future?” or “Killing Sarah Connor”: Cyberdyne Systems, time travel and the grandfather paradox; Skynet and John Connor: philosophy of technology and creating our own enemies; “Sentience, Sapience, and Self-Awareness”: issues in philosophy of mind; Neural Net to Supercomputer to ‘Software in Cyberspace’: Skynet and multiple realization;“Is Skynet Justified in Defending Itself?” the ethics of war and artificial intelligence; “Irrefutable Delusions”: Sarah Connor, Delusional Beliefs, and Standards of Evidence in T2;“Stop Miles Bennett Dyson”: Sarah Connor’s transformation into a killer (is violence contagious?) or Sarah Connor’s transformation from ‘80’s ditz to Feminist Icon; “Judgment Day is Unavoidable” or “No Fate but what we Make”: eternalist vs. presentist perspectives on the original versus modified timelines; “John Connor is the Most Important Person in the World”: causality and the meaning of life; “To Preserve and Protect”: the contrastive values of human versus artificial life; “What is a Terminator?”: The Ontology of Fictional Objects; “I Have Data Which Could be Interpreted as Pain”: machines, consciousness, and simulated perception; The T-1000: adaptable machines and emergence; How Did They Build Skynet?: “truthmakers” and knowledge with no source; Andy and the Turk: killing the innocent to save the innocent or Are scientists responsible for their inventions?; “Terminatrix”: the T3 gynoid , feminism, and trangressive cyborgs; “Should we Stop the Future?”: Conservatism and the “Terminator Argument” in bioethics; “The Closest Thing to a Father I Have”: John Connor & the Terminator; “Desire is Irrelevant, I am a MACHINE”: Who is Responsible for the Terminator’s Actions? Or freewill vs determinism; “Assume the Shape of Anything it Touches”: The Metaphysics of Transformation in T2 & T3; The Govinator: Fantasy and reality in politics; Does the Future Exist now?: The nature of spacetime and reality; Embodied Artificial Intelligence: Is AI actually possible, and if so, how close are we to creating it?; Monstrous Technology: From Frankenstein to the Terminator.

Submission Guidelines:

1. Submission deadline for abstracts (100-500 words) and CV(s): September 8, 2008.

2. Submission deadline for drafts of accepted papers: November 3, 2008.

Kindly submit by e-mail (with or without Word attachment) to: Richard Brown at

A Short Argument that Utilitarians Ought Not to Promote Atheism

It has been commonplace in the history of moral theory to argue that having an obligation and being motivated to fulfill that obligation come apart. I have argued that this was the conception that Hobbes and Locke had. Each of the philosophers thought that we could have obligations (even in the state of nature) but that we needed, in addition to the obligation itself, some other motivating reason to fulfil the obligation.  This can be seen as partly what a Kantian moral theory denies, in that they claim that the having of the obligation (or the recognition that one has it) is the only (legitimate) motivation to fulfil the obligation. So, if one has an anti-Kantian view of this sort one will have to appeal to some strong authority as an enforcer of the moral rules. Hobbes himself says that if there were a God then he would be the one to punish and reward those who break or follow the rules, but in his absence we need a strong Earthly authority.

It seems to me, though I admit that this is ultimately an empirical question, that belief in the existence of God and his willingness to punish and reward people who ignore or follow the dictates of morality is a strong motivator to obey said rules. It also seems to me that if people did not have a belief in God they would be more disposed to breaking the rules of morality when they were confident that they would not be caught by Earthly authorities (I mean, God is always watching, but the city of New York has its lapses). This is of course the problem of Hobbes’ intelligent Knave. Even if one is a Kantian about motivation (like I am), doesn’t one have to admit that fear of consequences has more motivational pull that does the recognition of obligation? Certainly not in all cases, but I mean generally among mankind.

Now, the utilitarian believes that the action (rule, preference, whatever) that promotes the greatest amount of happiness is the right action (rule, whatever) but our motivation for performance doesn’t matter. So, on utilitarian views one can do the right thing for the wrong reasons and still count as performing a moral action (though I sometimes think a Kantian has to say this as well). So, a world populated solely by atheists would be one that was less morally good than a world populated (mostly) by people who feared an all-powerful God. This is because, no matter how good the Earthly government’s enforcement of the moral rules is, it will not be 100% and so will not provide as much motivation to avoid immoral acts as belief that there is an all-powerful being who is always watching and judging you would. Given this it turns out that the utilitarian is obligated not only to avoid promoting belief in atheism, but also to promoting theism of a very strict sort.  

 Well, that wasn’t as short as I thought 🙂

Top 10 Posts of 2008

OK, so the year isn’t over yet…but these are the most view posts so far…

–Runner up– Reverse Zombies, Dualism, and Reduction

10. Question Begging Thought Experiments

9. Ontological Arguments

8. The Inconceivability of Zombies

7. There’s Something About Jerry 

6. Pain Asymbolia and Higher-Order Theories of consciousness

5.  Philosophical Trends

4. A Short Argument that there is no God

3. Has Idealism Been Refuted?

2. God versus the Delayed Choice Quantuum Eraser

1. A Simple Argument Against Berkeley

A Short Argument that There is No God

I was thinking about Mackie and Plantinga on the problem of evil today and I thought of the following short argument that, I think, captures the spirit of Mackie’s point and avoids Plantinga appeal to transworld depravity. I would be interested to know what people thought of it.  

1.  If there is a God then He is metaphysically free and always freely chooses to do the right thing.

2. Thus, if there is a God it is possible that something be (metaphysically) free and always freely choose to do the right thing.

3. If it is possible to be free and always freely choose to do the right thing then, if God were to create a world He would create a world in which there were creatures that were metaphysically free and always freely choose to do the right thing.

4. But the world that we find ourselves in is not a world where we are free and always freely choose to do the right thing, and if we assume that God created it, then

5. It is not possible for something to be metaphysically free and always freely choose to do the right thing

6. So, there is no God

Free Will and Omniscience, again

A while ago I was obsessed with trying to show that God’s foreknowledge of our actions was incompatible with Human free will. I have had some time to reflect on the issue and I want to take another stab at it.

So, let ‘K’ be ‘knows that’ and ‘G’ stand for God, and ‘R’ for Richard Brown (me). Then (1) says that if God knows that I will do some action then it is necessary that I do that action.

(1) (x)(K(G,R,x) –> [](D(R,x))

(1) captures the intuition that God’s knowledge necessitates our actions. I think that this is true, so to prove it I tried to show that denying it leads to a contradiction and, since it can’t be false it must be true. Here is the proof.

1. ~(x)(K(G,R,x) –> []D(R,x)) assume

2. (Ex)~(K(G,R,x) –> []D(R,x)) 1, by definition

3. (Ex)~~(K(G,R,x) & ~[]D(R,x)) 2, by def

4. (Ex) (K(G,R,x) & ~[]D(R,x)) 3, by def

5. K(G,R,a) & ~[]D(R,a) 4, EI

6. K(G,R,a) 5, CE

7. []K(G,R,a) 6, necessitation

8. ~[]D(R,a) 5, CE

9. (x)[] (K(G,R,x) –> D(R,x)) assumption (2′)

10. [](K(G,R,a) –> D(R,a)) 9, UI.

11. []K(G,R,a) –> []D(R,a) 10, distribution

12. ~[]D(R,a) –> ~[]K(G,R,a) 11, contraposition

13. ~[]K(G,R,a) 8,11 MP

14. []K(G,R,a) & ~[]K(G,R,a) 7,13 CI

15. (x)(K(G,R,x) –> [](D,R,x)) 1-14 reductio

The main objection centered on step (lucky number) 7 and my use of the rule of necessitation. 7 says that it is necessay that God knows that I perform action a. That means that it would have to be true in every possible world that God (in that world) knows that you perform action a. This may seem unreasonable if one thinks that there is a possible world where you do not perform action a. But if actions are events that can be named then it is easy to show that they must necessarily exist, in which case I would have to perform that action in every world where I exist, and snce it is just as easy to show that I must necessarily exist it follows that God would indeed know that I perform action a in every possible world and so 7 comes out true. So if one accepts S5 then one should not have a problem with 7.

But suppose that one rejects, or modifys S5 to avoid the embaressment of necessary existence? Then 7 starts to look fishy again. But is it? Say that there is some world where I do in fact perform a and some other world where I do not. Call them ‘A’ and ‘~A’. The in A God knows that I perform a but in ~A He doesn’t know that I perform a because it is false that I perform a and God does not know falsehoods. But is it really true that in ~A God does not know that I perform a? He knows everything, so He knows what is possible and so He knows that there is a possible world where I do perform a. Yes, but that just means that He knows “possibly Richard performs a’ not ‘Richard performs a'”, or in symbols; he knows <>D(R,a) not D(R,a). This I admit, and so it seems that there is a conception of God’s foreknowledge that is compatible with Human free will. But there does seem to be a sense in which He still knows that I do a; He knows in which possible worlds I do it and in which I don’t. But maybe that isn’t enough to justify 7 and so enough to avoid the issue.

But notice that it is a conception of God as confined to particular possible worlds where he knows all and only the truths in that world that is the actual world. The possible worlds are not real worlds but formal descriptions or specifications of how the actual world could have been and God has maximal knowledge of that. If one were a modal realist and thought that the possible worlds were real worlds that exist then there would be a problem here. In each world God would know either that you perform action a in that world or that you perform it in world-x. In both cases He knows that you perform action a and so it will true in all worlds that He knows that you do a. So 7 would be true again.

So I conclude that there are some interpretations where 7 comes out true; in which case there are some metaphysical systems in which God’s omniscience is incompatible with Human free will. Or He’s a dialetheist…

An Argument Against The Argument from Religious Experience

In the comments on an earlier post I voiced the beginnings of an argument against religious experience as a legitimate source of knowledge about God. The basic idea behind the argument is that the idea that God would selectively reveal Himself is incompatible with his being a perfectly moral Being. Here is how I put it then,

It seems to me that if there really were a God he would make it clearer…the Old testament seems to have it right…He is constantly involved in teh affairs of His people…True, he reveals himself only to a select few, but everyone can see that he is acting in the world (e.g. the plauges in Egypt are witnessed by many, many people). But this doesn’t happen any more…furthermore why would a God who loved me not reveal Himself to me? The existence of God is clearly one of the most important questions that Mankind has ever pondered…doesn’t it seem immoral of Him to reveal the Truth to you but not to me?

[I mean, s]uppose that I love you and that I know everything about you. Also suppose that one of your deepest desire is to know whether I am alive or not. You don’t think that that would give me some reason for letting you know that I am alive? Now imagine an infinitely loving being. What possible reason could that being have for staying hidden? I claim none. So if God selectively reveals himself then He acts immorally

Enigman recently pointed me to a recent post at Siris which is from the autobiography of a 19th Century Saint who seems to voice similar concerns as I do. Here is teh brief passage;

I often asked myself why God had preferences, why all souls did not receive an equal measure of grace. I was filled with wonder when I saw extraordinary favours showered on great sinners like St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Mary Magdalen, and many others, whom He forced, so to speak, to receive His grace….

Our Lord has deigned to explain this mystery to me. He showed me the book of nature, and I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtide beauty, and the fields would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden. He has been pleased to create great Saints who may be compared to the lily and the rose, but He has also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them. And the more gladly they do His Will the greater is their perfection.

I can’t seem to tell if he is here addressing the same issue as I am or not. The talk about the roses and daiseys makes me think that it has something to do with some of us not being as blessed as others, but then again maybe it is the case that His revealing Himself is a blessing and so he really is addressing the same issue as I am. At anyrate, his answer doesn’t seem that convincing. His argument seems to be that a world in which God revealed Himself to everyone would be a world that was in some sense not as good as a world where he only selectively revealed Himself…but how could that be?

God, Reason, and Morality

The previous post brings up a question which I have thought about a lot: Can God act immorally?

It seems to me that the answer to this question is ‘yes’…and in fact I think we have clear examples of God’s immorality in the Bible (I am thinking in particular about Job). How is this possible?

Here is an argument

1. Causing unnecessary suffering is wrong

2. God causes unnecessary suffering (e.g. Job)

3. Therefore God (sometimes) acts immorally

What is wrong witht his arguement? I have heard some poeple say that it is a mistake to apply morality to God as He is not the right kind of object for moral evaluation, but why? He is rational, and so can see that ceratin actions are contradictory (or can’t be universalized, or whatever) and so should be bound by morality just like all other rational agents.

Does God Know About Quantuum Mechanics?

I was answering a comment from Richard C. which made me think of this.

It has been established via experiment that Einstein was wrong and that randomness is a fundamental feature of the quantuum mechanical description of reality. Scientists are even now using entaglement in the lab to ‘teleport’ information (in the form of transfering states fromone entangled atom to the other) inthe hopes of making this suprising fact about nature useful (relativity physics has never even come close to being so useful!). The question, then, is can an omniscient being know in advance the outcome of the random quantuum events? Either way you answer there is trouble.

If you say that God cannot know the outcome of the events then there is an obvious limitation of God’s knowledge. With respect to quantuum mechanics He can do no better than us! He knows the outcome of the events in the form of probabilities, but just like us He is unable to say in any given case what the outcome will be. But the Quantuum Mechanics is surely the greatest discovery in the history of the universe! For, if this is true then we have discovered God’s knowedge of the universe…but this sounds crazy! So it seems to me that there is strong pressure to say that God does indeed know the outcome, in advance, of all quantuum events.

But then there is a seperate problem. Forget for the moment the issue of whether His foreknowledge is compatible with the outcome being truely random and consider the double slit experiment (I assume you know what that is, if not let me know and I’ll give a description). One of the strangest things that we have found out about it over the last thirty years or so is that if there is a way for us to know the path that the photon actually takes, and so determine which slit it actually travels through, then the interference pattern no longer manifests. What we get is ‘nothing but us particles down hir sir’. In Green’s book The Fabric of the Cosmos he details experiemnts he calls ‘quantuum erasures’ where they showed that what matters is whether someone could know the path taken by the photon. Tis is obviously extremely strange and anti-common sense, but it is a robust experimental finding. But now consider God. If He knows the path that the photon takes then it will not act like a wave. It will act like a particle. So from God’s point of view particle physics has to be correct. Since He is always holding the door of the refrigerator open, metaphorically speaking, the light inside will always be on. But this really reduces to the first option in claiming that God can’t have any direct knowledge of quantuum physics.

In fact one might think that if God did in fact exist then we couldn’t have discovered quamntuum mechanics in the first place.