Study Guide

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Compassion & Forgiveness

By Philip K. Dick

Compassion & Forgiveness

Put away that Mensa application and stop studying for that IQ test: in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the key question isn't how smart you are but how emotionally smart you are. Not IQ; EQ.Does the word "empathy" look familiar? After all, you've only seen it appear in the novel roughly 9,634 times. Empathy is the ability to imagine the thoughts, feelings, attitudes of another person or animal as though they were your own. Not surprisingly, it tends to lead to compassion and forgiveness.

But what happens when a person is born human but lacks empathy, or when an android develops the ability to think of others beyond his or herself? Is the human no longer considered human? Is the machine more than a machine? (And will it still obey our every command?)

Questions About Compassion & Forgiveness

  • Do you think any androids develop empathy? If yes, who and where do you see it? If no, then why not? Either way, explain how this affects your reading of empathy in the novel.
  • The Voigt-Kampff test discovers that Phil Resch is a human, that he empathizes with animal life, but that he has no empathy for androids. As in, none, zero, zilch. How would you characterize Resch's character based on this fact? Do you see him as more human or more android? Something in between? Explain your answer.
  • How does Mercerism characterize empathy? Do you agree with this characterization or do you find some problems with it? Why or why not?
  • By the novel's end, do you suppose Rick has fully empathized with electric life or do you think he has lost the ability to do so? Use examples from the text to explain your answer.

Chew on This

Mercer's prompts for Rick to kill the androids that Mercerism's definition of empathy is inherently faulty.

No character is completely empathetic in the novel. Even Isidore, the grand master of empathy, can't fathom the pain or feelings of Rick or Roy.