Computation, Coherence, and Ethical Reasoning
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.
KeywordsCoherentism Ethical reasoning Foundationalism Machine ethics Practical reasoning Underdetermination Robot ethics Unsupervised neural network
I wish to thank Andrew Bailey, Pierre Boulos, and Paul Thagard for comments and questions during the early stages of the work that eventually lead to this paper. I would also like to thank the participants at both the Dartmouth AI@50 conference (July 2006) and the North American Computing and Philosophy Conference (August 2006) for valuable input. For financial assistance during the writing of this paper, I am indebted to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
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