Original Paper

Minds and Machines

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 27-46

First online:

Computation, Coherence, and Ethical Reasoning

  • Marcello GuariniAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Windsor Email author 

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Theories of moral, and more generally, practical reasoning sometimes draw on the notion of coherence. Admirably, Paul Thagard has attempted to give a computationally detailed account of the kind of coherence involved in practical reasoning, claiming that it will help overcome problems in foundationalist approaches to ethics. The arguments herein rebut the alleged role of coherence in practical reasoning endorsed by Thagard. While there are some general lessons to be learned from the preceding, no attempt is made to argue against all forms of coherence in all contexts. Nor is the usefulness of computational modelling called into question. The point will be that coherence cannot be as useful in understanding moral reasoning as coherentists may think. This result has clear implications for the future of Machine Ethics, a newly emerging subfield of AI.


Coherentism Ethical reasoning Foundationalism Machine ethics Practical reasoning Underdetermination Robot ethics Unsupervised neural network