This weekend I was watching Terminator 2 (editor cut). In the end, after T-1000 is destroyed, Arnold asks Sarah and John to destroy him by melting and says "I cannot destroy myself".

So, what does this mean? The terminator cannot destroy himself unless it is absolutely necessary in order to succeed in his mission (like protect John?)?

In that case, what was the Terminator in part 1 going to do after the success of his mission (i.e. destroy Sarah)? Just live a long happy life and wait for Skynet arise?

Update: I understand that this is not the exact Third law of Asimov, since the terminators definitely don't follow the First or Second law. Let's call it the law of self-preservation. Does terminator have a form of self-preservation to some point and the prohibition of suicide?


4 Answers 4


To Arnold maybe, but certainly not to all Terminators proven by the second part of the law: "... as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws". Now the first two laws are about protecting humans, which given the name would suggest they were not programmed to do so.

There is an instance in the latest movie where one of the machines terminated itself. This was when they were testing the magic signal. While it wasn't a "terminator" it came from the same place and therefore had the same programming. The difference with Arine is that he was reprogrammed by the Humans and therefore could have had the three laws apply.

So I would say terminators are not bound by the third law in any way.

  • Connor did not put second or first law in the Terminator in future, he only added the priority "Follow my (and only my) orders". Also young Connor added the First law, but he did not extend the priority to the Second. There are no indications that humans introduced Third law into Terminator while reprogramming him Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 10:28
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    Well if we are simply talking about self-preservation then yes, Terminators cannot self-destruct. It would seem illogical for them to do so. The terminators (at least the ones sent back into the past) were not connected to skynet so they are autonomous. No sentient being would want to self-terminate.
    – user4437
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 10:54
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    So, in that case what would the Terminator from the first part do after completing his mission? Will become a simple citizen, waiting for the Skynet arise? Or maybe will become a big scientist that will actually develop the required technology instead of Miles Dyson? Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 10:58
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    Actually - self-destruct is logical. In the event a terminator is disabled, then a self-destruct could be used to prevent capture and study by humans, and also kill more humans in a final effort
    – HorusKol
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 10:59
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    Maybe the reason why Arnold couldn't self terminate was due to the fact that would be failing his primary mission (terminating the Conner's) by doing so. This is assuming the reprogramming was not a change in mission objectives but an overriding directive from John Conner.
    – user4437
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 13:11

In the book version, the Terminator does indeed terminate itself.

However, regarding the movie: It says (1:30) "I cannot self-terminate" (emphasis by me). This is different from "I mustn't self-terminate" or "I may not self-terminate", which could be read as: It's not forbidden for it to terminate itself, but it simply does not have the ability to do it.

This is a bit argumentative, because from the fact that it knows how to terminate a T-1000 you may assume that it could terminate a hostile T-800 as well, and it seems intelligent enough to realise that it is a T-800 as well meaning that the same means would have to be taken to terminate itself than a different T-800.

A completely different (albeit quite far fetched) explanation might be that this is a way to ensure that its missions are carried out. From a model checking point of view all assignments could be solved most easily by self-termination (inaction is the safest option). So maybe this is a technical requirement all T-800 share by design.


Disclaimer: For the sake of building a rational explanation, I am going to assume that skynet does not have any knowledge of the three laws. That assumption is based on the obvious fact that they do harm humans, and allow humans to come to harm by any means necessary.

I do believe that a T800 as designed by SkyNet is fully capable of self termination. For example, if one were facing capture by the resistance, it would be beneficial to SkyNet for the terminator to destroy itself, thus rendering the technology useless to the enemy. Plasma weapons would be effective in rendering any computational hardware unrecoverable, while the endoskeleton is less of a concern in 2018-2027.

So why would a Terminator capable of self termination be unable to self-terminate when sent back in time? Ignoring the fact that plasma rifles are in short supply in the 1990's, prior to being sent back, John Connor instructed the Terminator with its mission parameters one of which could have been to have John or Sarah destroy the Terminator in a way that would not leave any recoverable technology behind.

A Terminator can only self terminate itself to the point it stops functioning, but technology can still be recovered. Recovering this technology in the present is what allows SkyNet to be developed. Self-termination would not completely satisfy the requirements set forth by the parameter, and thus the Terminator cannot comply. The only other alternative would be for someone to continue to reduce the machine into harmless metal. It's convenient, however, that the movie ends in a metal foundry.

I know someone is going to ask "Why not jump into the molten metal, then?" I like to believe that John would have wanted his younger self to learn a lesson of loss, and having to face a tough decision. Old John knows his mother is going to die soon, and losing the Terminator will help him do a practice run through the grieving process. He might also want to have himself develop an animosity toward the machines as he gets older...hating them for forcing him to destroy the machine he grew to love. We can see some of this resentment in T3, when he has an attitude with the Terminator. This could be some of the fuel for the fire inside John Connor of the future...


In the first movie he flees the scene of the accident after being injured and surrounded by police. He was about 100 feet away from his quarry, but one of his hands wasn't working right and he can't see out of one of his eyes.

He opts to live to kill another day. There's your self-preservation. The prohibition of suicide is answered as best we can with the quote you already provided. We have no way of knowing if that's standard programing or not. We also have no information on what one with standard programing would do upon mission completion.

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