A Leap of Doubt

#030: Westworld and Philosophy (w/ Kimberly Engels and James South)

October 18, 2018

In this episode, there is plenty for us to doubt, because we’re talking about philosophy of mind with some moral and ethical philosophy thrown in like sprinkles on top. In what may well become a recurring theme on this podcast, we’re doing another philosophical deep-dive into a television series. This week, we’re analyzing HBO’s Westworld, a cerebral, high-concept series which explores the emergence of artificial consciousness in a theme park modeled after the American Old West and populated by highly sophisticated robots that look and act just like humans from that era.

Joining me for this journey into the maze are two philosophy professors, Dr. James South and Dr. Kimberly Engels, who together have edited an anthology of essays entitled Westworld and Philosophy, a fairly recent addition to the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series.

Are the hosts of Westworld conscious, and if so, what is their experience like? Would AI have a bias for consciousness? Does Westworld reveal your true self, or does it shape who you are to become? How might we apply moral luck, virtue theory, and the Sartrean concept of existentialism and freedom to the show’s characters? Do Westworld’s hosts possess self-consciousness, or merely phenomenal consciousness? These are just a few of the questions we explore in this episode.


Westworld and Philosophy book: https://www.wiley.com/en-us/Westworld+and+Philosophy-p-9781119437888

James B. South’s website: http://academic.mu.edu/southj/

Kimberly S. Engels’ website: https://ksengels.wordpress.com/about/


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The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license. The editing was done by Rich Lyons of the “Living After Faith” podcast.

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