When it comes to social robotics (robots that engage human social responses via “eyes” and other facial features, voice-based natural-language interactions, and even evocative movements), ethicists, particularly in European and North American traditions, are divided over whether and why they might be morally considerable. Some argue that moral considerability is based on internal psychological states like consciousness and sentience, and debate about thresholds of such features sufficient for ethical consideration, a move sometimes criticized for being overly dualistic in its framing of mind versus body. Others, meanwhile, focus on the effects of these robots on human beings, arguing that psychological impact alone can qualify an entity for moral status. What both sides overlook is the importance for ordinary moral reasoning of integrating questions about an entity’s “inner life,” and its psychological effect on us. Turning to accounts of relationships in virtue ethics, especially those of the Confucian tradition, we find a more nuanced theory that can provide complex guidance on the moral considerability of social robots, including ethical considerations about whether and how to question this to begin with.
Elder, A. (2020). “How could you even ask that?”: Moral Considerability, Uncertainty and Vulnerability in Social Robotics. Journal of Sociotechnical Critique, 1(1), 1-23. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.25779/g8a3-f992
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