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Are the Nexus-6 replicants in the movie Blade Runner really human? Why or why not?

Arguments for the humanity of replicants include their appearance, behaviors, ability to feel emotions and pain, instinct toward self-preservation, and acute sense of self-awareness. Arguments against their humanity include their origins, superhuman abilities, abnormally short life span, and questionable souls. While key human traits exist in replicants, key differentiators exist that set all humans and all replicants apart.

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Arguments could be made on both sides as to whether or not the Nexus-6 replicants in Blade Runner were human. It largely depends on how one defines a human being. In fact, the entire thematic question behind Blade Runner is "What does it mean to be human?" In order to even posit a theory, first, it's essential to compare the pro and con arguments about what constitutes humanity.

Cons:

  • Nexus-6 replicants were programmed to have a natural life span of no more than four years in order to prevent rebellion and the development of empathic abilities, while humans have far longer natural life spans.
  • Replicants are endowed with superhuman strength, smarts, speed, dexterity, and agility, making them, by definition, something other than human.
  • The question of whether replicants have souls —often a litmus test for humanity—is ambiguous at best and even plagues the thoughts of the replicants themselves.
  • Human beings are often thought to be created by God, not by other human beings.

Pros:

  • Replicants look, breathe, and act like humans. Moreover, they can reason and understand logic.
  • Replicants feel complex emotions and pain.
  • Replicants have a fear of dying and death, just as humans do, and will fight for their own survival.
  • The fact that replicants can even ponder their own existence, humanity, and soulfulness is a sign of humanity: the ability to achieve self-awareness and self-consciousness (a la Descarte's "I think, therefore I am").

It's important to note that replicants are so physiologically similar to humans that only a Voight-Kampff test that measures nuanced nonverbal responses to emotionally charged questions can detect the difference between them.

However, therein lies the rub: that such a crucial test based on empathic and emotional response can identify a key difference between all replicants and all humans means that they are not the same. To wit, if one small part of a larger overall statement is false, then the entire statement is false. In this case, if a replicant has all the same human-defining attributes a human has except for one, then it is not a human but something altogether different.

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