A philosophical zombie, or p-zombie, is a thought experiment, a being that looks and acts exactly like a person but lacks an actual mind or conscious experience of their own.

A p-zombie presents all the outward evidence of personhood -- they can talk, and laugh, and make art and music, and engage in philosophical debates about the nature of consciousness -- but they don't have the moral status of a person. There's no one living their lives. They're puppets, empty shells; there's no one there.

Killing a fictional character is not murder.

Writers, actors, and artists put considerable effort into making fictional people seem like real people. They make them relatable, vulnerable, intelligent, witty. They go to great lengths to get the characters to seem like real people.

We may cheer a character's triumphs and commiserate with other fans when they're hurt. Sometimes we even write angry letters when a character is killed. But no author has ever been convicted of murder for writing a character's death.

No matter how much a character seems like a real person, no matter how much they trigger the emotional reflexes of sympathy and empathy, they remain not real people. They are puppets of their authors; except to the extent that they are inspired by reality, there is no one who lives their lives.

So the next time you're debating whether it's morally okay to hurt p-zombies, think about the fact that p-zombies actually exist. You may find that your answer changes when the question isn't hypothetical.