Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 269–282 | Cite as

Machines and the face of ethics

  • Niklas ToivakainenEmail author
Original Paper


In this article I try to show in what sense Emmanuel Levinas’ ‘ethics as first philosophy’ moves our ethical thinking away from what has been called ‘centrist ethics’. Proceeding via depictions of the structure of Levinasian ethics and including references to examples as well as to some empirical research, I try to argue that human beings always already find themselves within an ethical universe, a space of meaning. Critically engaging with the writings of David Gunkel and Lucas Introna, I try to argue that these thinkers, rather than clarifying, distort our ethical understanding of how we stand in relation to artefacts. Drawing a distinction between how pervasive our ethical relationship to other human beings, and living animals, is and how the nature of artefacts is tied to us, I conclude by indicating that the aspiration to give artefacts an ethical face suggests a fantasy to avoid ethical responsibility and generates what I call a ‘compensatory logic’.


Ethics Face Relationship Responsibility Compensatory 


  1. Backström, J. (2007). The fear of openness. Åbo: Åbo University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Benso, S. (2000). The face of things: A different side of ethics. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  3. Berreby, D. (2005). Us and them: Understanding your tribal mind. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.Google Scholar
  4. Calarco, M. (2008). Zoographies: The question of the animal from Heidegger to Derrida. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Darley, J. M., & Batson, C. D. (1973). From Jerusalem to Jericho: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27(1), 100–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Davis, D. B. (1966). The problem of slavery in western culture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Derrida, J. (2008). The animal that therefore I am. In Mallet, M.-L. (Ed.), (trans: David, W.). New York, NY: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Dykstra, P. A. (2009). Older adult loneliness: Myths and realities. European Journal of Aging. doi: 10.1007/s10433-009-0110-3.Google Scholar
  9. Elkins, S. M. (1976). Slavery: A problem in American institutional and intellectual life (3rd revised ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  10. Ellul, J. (1976). The ethics of freedom. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  11. Ellul, J. (1990). The technological bluff (trans: Bromiley, W. G.). Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  12. Floridi, L. (2002). On the intrinsic value of information objects and the info-sphere. Ethics and Information Technology, 4, 287–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Floridi, L. (2013). The ethics of information. New York NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gunkel, J. D. (2012). The machine question. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  15. Hitlin, S., & Vaisey, S. (2010). Handbook of the sociology of morality. New York, NY: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Introna, L. (2014). Ethics and the flesh: Being touched by the otherness of things. In O. Pétursdóttir (Ed.), Ruin memories: Material, aesthetics and the archeology of the recent past. Oxford: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Joyce, R. (2001). The myth of morality. Cambridge, UK; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Kant, I. (2002). Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals (trans: Wood, A. W.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Levinas, E. (1969). Totality and infinity: An essay on exteriority (trans: Lingis, A.). Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University.Google Scholar
  20. Levinas, E. (1985). Ethics and infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo/Emmanuell Levinas (trans: Cohen, R. A.). Pittsburgh, PA: Duquense University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Mumford, L. (2010). Technics and civilization, fourth edition with a new foreword by Langdon Winner. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  22. Northup, S. (2014). 12 years a slave. London: William Collins.Google Scholar
  23. Nykänen, H. (2002). The “I” the “You” and the soul: An ethics of conscience. Åbo: Åbo Akademi University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Nykänen, H. (2014). Conscience and collective pressure. Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology, 21(1), 51–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sorle, T., & Draper, H. (2014). Robot cares, ethics and older people. Ethics and Information Technology, 16, 183–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Toivakainen, N. (2014). Social robots as mirrors of (failed) communion. In Seibt, J., Hakli, R., & Nørskov, M. (Eds.), Sociable robots and the future of social relations. Volume 273 of frontiers in artificial intelligence and applications. Amsterdam: IOS Press.Google Scholar
  27. Toivakainen, N. (2015). The moral roots of conceptual confusion in artificial intelligence research. American Philosophical Association Newsletter. Philosophy and Computers, 14(2), 20–31. Google Scholar
  28. Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  29. Wallgren, T. (2006). Transformative philosophy. New York, NY: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  30. Westerlund, F. (2014). Heidegger and the problem of phenomenality. Helsinki: Philosophical Studies from the University of Helsinki, Unigrafia.Google Scholar
  31. Wittgenstein, L. (1967). Philosophical investigations (trans: Anscombe, G .E. M). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  32. Wittgenstein, L. (1980). Culture and value (trans: Winch, P.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art StudiesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

Personalised recommendations