Selective Empathy

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a fictional novel written by Philip K Dick in 1968. The book is about a detective called Rick Deckard whose task was to track down androids and kill them. Androids, in this case, are non-human slaves who are forbidden to come back to earth. The novel was set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco where real animals were rare and owning one was considered a mark of the statue. Deckard possessed an electric sheep knowingly and hoped to hold a real animal someday. He took up his job to buy his wife a real animal. On a mission to own a real one, he gets an assigned to kill six nexus androids as a bounty hunter (Dick, 14). While in his line of duty he gets to the point of questioning concerning the intelligence of androids, what it means to be human and empathy. The novel focuses on identifying real from fake in terms of people and their character.

The dividing line between human and non-human machine in Philip Dick’s Novel is the level of empathy in both. Non- personal devices are wired and therefore have artificial intelligence. Clones, aliens, and machines are thought not to have compassion towards each other or human beings and as so in the novel the androids are killed. On the other hand, humans are considered to have empathy and compassion. Deckardat some point feels heavily burdened to destroy the androids because they resembled him (Dick, 58). He also falls in love with Rachel an android showing that he has emotions. Rachel being an android only sleeps with Deckard to convince him not to kill her kind. Moreover, her lack of empathy is shown towards the end of the novel when she kills Iran’s real Nubian goat.

Another distinctive line between created being and a clone is seen in the aspect of wanting to own a real animal with emotions. Deckard owns a black-faced electric sheep, an imitation of a live sheep. The sheep looked and felt like a real one but was circuited and programmed meaning it could be repaired if it has defects (Dick, 104). Real animals on the other hand like the Nubian goat did not have a reset button or wire to make it function again once it was killed by Rachel that was the end of it. The book tries to imply that non-human machines are inferior as Deckard\d found his electric sheep inferior compared to the android robots.

Philip Dick brings about many ethical, philosophical and moral implications to his story. Deckard questions his ethical behavior where he kills some androids even without testing them while at the same time he engages himself emotionally with Rachel. He does not like the idea of killing things even the androids, but since he wants to get a real animal, he kills androids anyway.  Other hunters in the novel seem not to be bothered with killing androids let alone being associated with them. Ethically we can say they are doing their job as prescribed to them. Roy Baty is one with an unforgiving ability to kill and was always determined in his work, so was Resch.

Humans are seen to have compassion toward animals, making them want to own real animals and take care of them. They viewed real animals as equally deserving love care and attention just like human beings. Therefore, the wealthy acquired them so protect and take care of them. These tender feelings are in all ways philosophical, and Dick who seems to be an animal lover fosters empathy and compassion in the book. Dick suggests that the first trait that identifies a human being and sets them apart from androids and fakes in empathy (Lampkin, 1).

Morally, Dick put human empathy as a joke to some of the characters. There is a point where Deckard points out that it is only omnivorous and herbivorous animals that feel compassion and empathy, yet us as human beings eat animals that we should be protecting. In the real sense if we adore animals and would love to protect them then, we should be vegetarians. Resch is a perfect example of immorality, and he ruthlessly killed androids sometimes even without testing them yet he adored his squirrel pet back at home. This only shows that human beings have double standards; their empathy is not real and applicable to all.

The world we live in is not different from Deckard’s world. This world is full of fakes and clones. According to Woodland (92) People are wired to think in a certain way by influential people. Some pretend to be philanthropic by donating to charities only to look useful to others just like the rich people in the Novel did. Some are serial killers and mass killers, yet they have pets at home that they love so much. The most annoying form of lack of empathy in this world is companies emitting harmful substances to the atmosphere only to manufacture products and gain profits. As Dick suggests in his novel, empathy is the first trait a human being should possess, and it starts at home.


Work cited

Dick, Philip K. “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 1968.” New York: Del Rey (1996).

Lamkin, Matt. Biosci-Fi: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick, 1968: Related Organization(s): Centre for Law and the Biosciences

Woodward, Kathleen (1997). “Prosthetic Emotions.” In Hoffman, Gerhard. Emotions in the Postmodern. Heidelberg: Alfred Hornung. Pp. 75–107.


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