AI & SOCIETY

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 479–488 | Cite as

Toward a comparative theory of agents

Open Forum

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to address some of the questions on the notion of agent and agency in relation to property and personhood. I argue that following the Kantian criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics, contemporary biotechnology and information and communication technologies bring about a new challenge—this time, with regard to the Kantian moral subject understood in the subject’s unique metaphysical qualities of dignity and autonomy. The concept of human dignity underlies the foundation of many democratic systems, particularly in Europe as well as of international treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Digital agents, artificial organisms as well as new capabilities of the human agents related to their embeddedness in digital and biotechnological environments bring about an important transformation of the human self-appraisal. A critical comparative reflection of this transformation is important because of its ethical implications. I deal first with the concept of agent within the framework of Aristotelian philosophy, which is the basis for further theories in accordance with and/or in opposition to it, particularly since modernity. In the second part of this paper, I deal with the concept of personhood in Kantian philosophy, which supersedes the Aristotelian metaphysics of substance and builds the basis of a metaphysics of the moral human subject. In the third part, I discuss the question of artificial agents arising from modern biology and ICT. Blurring the difference between the human and the natural and/or artificial opens a “new space” for philosophical reflection as well as for debate in law and practical policy.

Keywords

Agents Information technology Biotechnology Autonomy Dignity Aristotle Kant Subjectivity Personhood Property Ethics Law Policy 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The author thanks Mireille Hildebrandt (Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands) and Herman T. Tavani (Rivier College, USA) for their constructive criticisms and their assistance in polishing this text.

References

  1. Agamben G (2007) Die Beamten des Himmels. Über Engel. Verlag der Weltreligionen, Frankfurt am MainGoogle Scholar
  2. Aristotle (1950) The politics of Aristotle. In: Newman WL (ed) Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  3. Aristotle (1962) Ethica Nicomachea. In: Bywater I (ed) Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  4. Aristotle (1965) Du Ciel. In: Moraux P (ed) Les Belles Lettres, Paris.Google Scholar
  5. Aristotle (1973) Metaphysica. In: Jaeger W (ed) Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  6. Aristotle (1974) De Anima. In: Ross WD (ed) Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  7. Balmer A, Martin P (2008) Synthetic biology. Social and ethical challenges. Institute for Science and Society, University of Notthingham. Online. Available <http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/organisation/policies/reviews/scientific_areas/0806_synthetic_biology.pdf>. Accessed 15 Feb 2010
  8. Berkeley G (1965) A treatise concerning the principles of human knowledge’, in ibid. In: Armstrong DM (ed) Berkeley’s philosophical writings. Macmillan, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Bien G (1985) Die Grundlegung der politischen Philosophie bei Aristoteles. Alber, Freiburg and MunichGoogle Scholar
  10. Capurro R (1991) Techne und Ethik. Platons techno-theo-logische Begründung der Ethik im Dialog „Charmides“und die aristotelische Kritik’. Concordia. Internationale Zeitschrift für Philosophie 20:2–20. Online. Available: HTTP: <http://www.capurro.de/techne.htm>. Accessed 15 Feb 2010
  11. Capurro R (1993) Ein Grinsen ohne Katze. Von der Vergleichbarkeit zwischen Künstlicher Intelligenz und getrennten Intelligenzen. Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 47:93–102. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.capurro.de/grinsen.html>. Accessed 15 Feb 2010
  12. Capurro R (1999) Beiträge zu einer digitalen Ontologie. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.capurro.de/digont.htm>. Accessed 15 Feb 2010
  13. Capurro R (2004) Skeptical knowledge management. In: Hobohm H-Chr (ed) Knowledge management. Libraries and librarians taking up the challenge. IFLA Publication 108, Munich, pp 47–57Google Scholar
  14. Capurro R (2006) Towards an ontological foundation of information ethics. In: Ethics and information technology 8(4):175–186. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.capurro.de/oxford.html>. Accessed 15 Feb 2010
  15. Capurro R, Holgate J (eds) (2011) Messages and messengers. Angeletics as an approach to the phenomenology of communication. Fink, Munich and Paderborn (forthcoming)Google Scholar
  16. Cholby M (2008) Suicide. In: Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Online. Available HTTP: <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/suicide/>. Accessed 15 Feb 2010
  17. Eldred M (2001) Draft casting of a digital ontology. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.webcom.com/artefact/dgtlon_e.html>. Accessed 15 Feb 2010
  18. European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) (2005) Ethical aspects of ICT implants in the human body. Online. Available HTTP: <http://ec.europa.eu/european_group_ethics/avis/index_en.htm>. Accessed 15 Feb 2010
  19. European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) (2009) Ethics of synthetic biology. Online. Available HTTP: <http://ec.europa.eu/european_group_ethics/avis/index_en.htm>
  20. Feenberg A (2003) Active and passive bodies: comments on Don Ihde’s bodies in technology. Techné 7(2):102–109Google Scholar
  21. Hayles KN (1999) How we became Posthuman. Virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics. The University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  22. Heidegger M (1976) Sein und Zeit. Niemeyer, TübingenGoogle Scholar
  23. Holzhey-Kunz A (2001) Leiden am Dasein. Die Daseinsanalyse und die Aufgabe einer Hermeneutik psychopathologischer Phänomene. Passagen Verlag, ViennaGoogle Scholar
  24. Ihde D (2002) Bodies in technology. University of Minnesota Press, MinneapolisGoogle Scholar
  25. Kang HY (2011) Autonomic computing, genomic data and human agency: the case for embodiment. In: Hildebrandt M, Rouvroy A (eds) The philosophy of law meets the philosophy of technology: autonomic computing and transformations of human agency. Chapter 6. Routledge, London and New YorkGoogle Scholar
  26. Kant I (1974a) Kritik der Urteilskraft. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am MainGoogle Scholar
  27. Kant I (1974b) Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am MainGoogle Scholar
  28. Kant I (1975) Anthropologie. In: Kant I (ed) Schriften zur Anthropologie, Geschichtsphilosophie, Politik und Pädagogik. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, DarmstadtGoogle Scholar
  29. Kant I (1977a) Die Metaphysik der Sitten: Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Tugendlehre. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am MainGoogle Scholar
  30. Kant I (1977b) Die Metaphysik der Sitten: Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Rechtslehre. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am MainGoogle Scholar
  31. Karafyllis NC (ed) (2003) Biofakte. Versuch über den Menschen zwischen Artefakt und Lebewesen. mentis Verlag, PaderbornGoogle Scholar
  32. Kobusch Th (1980) Art. Metaphysik, Aristoteles. In: Ritter J (ed) Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt, pp 1188–1196Google Scholar
  33. Moraux P (1965) Introduction. In: Moraux P (ed) Aristote: Du Ciel. Les Belles Lettres, Paris, pp 1–190Google Scholar
  34. Piepmeier R (1976) Intelligenz, Intelligentsia, Intellektueller. In: Ritter J (ed) Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt, pp 445–447Google Scholar
  35. Thomas A (1922) Summa Theologiae. Ed. Leonina, RomeGoogle Scholar
  36. Vattimo G (1985) La fine della modernità. Nichilismo ed ermeneutica nella cultura post-moderna, Milano. Garzanti (Introduction and German transl. by R. Capurro: Das Ende der Moderne, Stuttgart: Reclam 1990)Google Scholar
  37. Zabala S (ed) (2007) Weakening philosophy. Essays in honour of Gianni Vattimo. McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal & KingstonGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Distinguished Researcher in Information Ethics, School of Information StudiesUniversity of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeMilwaukeeUSA

Personalised recommendations