The living vs. non-living predicament


What factors distinguish and classify something as living? This issue is the cause of much discussion. If something is classified as living, some factors may include something that breathes, has a heart and can feel emotions.  Yet, the factors are not limited to these, if something feels emotions then it too must have a conscious. “You are a person, I am a person, Vladimir Kramnik is a person… (Yet)… My coffee cup is not a person. My telephone is not a person.  (Litch, 2010, p.98). You can see how this topic brings out the debate in certain circles. Consider also who makes the ultimate decisions on what is living? Who or What gave them the power to do so? All of these questions poised are perhaps some of the most important questions to consider, and as Rowlands states, “What is the mind?” (2005). Rowlands considers this to be the utmost important question regarding philosophy and he refers to it as the mind-body problem, (2005, p. 57).

The Mind-Body problem as described by Rowlands, ‘the view from the inside versus the view from the outside’, (p. 59). What is meant by this is that there is two conflicting views, the outside view versus the inside viewpoint. The inside, is of course the mind, whereas the outside view is the body, perhaps the most deceptive. The body is able, to a certain point, disguise intentions to others. This is the focus of many science fiction films which are set in the future where ‘machines’ or robots endeavour to live peacefully in society. Yet, these films also depict the machines rebelling against society, bringing to light the conflict between living and non-living.


Robot or Man?


One such film is James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator. This film is set in the year 2029, it is a future where machines are the majority and humans live in fear. In this society a machine called the terminator has been sent back in time to carry out a mission. The terminator is human-looking, apparently unstoppable cyborg and its only mission is to kill Sarah Connor. The human resistance of the future sends Kyle Reese, a soldier to stop it. These early introductions into the film lead the audience to view the terminator/ machines as non-living, unable to show or feel emotions. In comparison, the future of the human race and their plight is shown. The definition between living and non-living is made clear to the audience.

However, during the course of the film, one character inquires of Reese why he didn’t bring any weaponry from the future to use against the terminator. Reese’s response is somewhat baffling, ‘only living materials will go through the time portal’. This statement sends the message to the audience that the terminator is a living being and contradicts the earlier message defining the living and non-living. Which is correct? Is the machine which looks like, acts like, and thinks intelligently living? Or is the fact that it is essentially a man-made, computer functioning machine categorise it into the non-living? Who makes these decisions? Would you like to be responsible for it?



Litch. M. M. (2010). Philosophy through Film. (2nd ed). New York: Routledge.

Rowlands. M. (2005). The Philosopher at the end of the Universe – Philosophy explained through Science Fictions Films.  London: Elbury Press.


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