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The philosophy of Westworld isn’t just about robot rights


Like most great science fiction, one of the more enjoyable aspects of HBO’s hit Westworld is how it manages to layer heady philosophical debates into its juicy human/robot thrills. For every shootout or step deeper into the mysterious maze, there’s a chance to reflect on the nature of consciusness, or whether androids dream of electric sheep, or any one of a dozen other fun “Intro To Philosophy”-style questions. But while the query of whether the park’s hosts should be thought of as sentient is one of the most obvious issues, there are some fundamental philosophical themes even more central to the show, and are explored in this new video from Wisecrack, “The Philosophy Of Westworld.”

Like previous videos about the philosophy of DC Comics’ Joker character and others, the 17-minute YouTube clip delves into several key concepts underlying the series. Primary among them is the debate between predestination and free will. As the show repeatedly highlights, you aren’t really acting ethically if your choices have been determined for you ahead of time, because you can’t ascribe moral value to decisions that aren’t your own. In comparing the first season of the show with the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the video notes multiple parallels, from the way the park creators play God, to the hosts’ state of blissful ignorance, to the eventual fall into consciousness preceded by whispers, just as the serpent whispered from the tree of knowledge. (The A.V. Club’s Matt Gerardi goes even more into detail on this idea in his piece last fall about how the Man In Black is a video game nerd.)


It also briefly addresses the theme of suffering as essential to consciousness and free will, as well as the efforts by the Man In Black to make the events within the park have meaning, and thereby give consequences to his actions. Ultimately, it argues the show’s universe in the first year isn’t unethical so much as it lacks ethics altogether, and makes the case for why season two will no longer be bound by that same condition. It doesn’t, however, explain why we didn’t get more of the delightful Angela Sarafyan.

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