Advertisement

Welcoming Robots into the Moral Circle: A Defence of Ethical Behaviourism

  • John DanaherEmail author
Original Research/Scholarship

Abstract

Can robots have significant moral status? This is an emerging topic of debate among roboticists and ethicists. This paper makes three contributions to this debate. First, it presents a theory—‘ethical behaviourism’—which holds that robots can have significant moral status if they are roughly performatively equivalent to other entities that have significant moral status. This theory is then defended from seven objections. Second, taking this theoretical position onboard, it is argued that the performative threshold that robots need to cross in order to be afforded significant moral status may not be that high and that they may soon cross it (if they haven’t done so already). Finally, the implications of this for our procreative duties to robots are considered, and it is argued that we may need to take seriously a duty of ‘procreative beneficence’ towards robots.

Keywords

Robots Moral status Moral standing Ethical behaviourism Procreative beneficence 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Matthijs Maas, Sven Nyholm and four anonymous reviewers and for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. He would also like to thank audiences at NUI Galway and Manchester University for enduring earlier presentations of its core argument.

References

  1. Arstein-Kerslake, A., & Flynn, E. (2017). The right to legal agency: Domination, disability and the protections of Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. International Journal of Law in Context, 13(1), 22–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bennet, M. R., Dennett, D., Hacker, P. M. S., & Searle, J. (2007). Neuroscience and philosophy: Brain, mind, and language. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  3. Bennett, M. R., & Hacker, P. M. S. (2003). Philosophical foundations of neuroscience. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  4. Bryson, J. (2010). Robots should be slaves. In Y. Wilks (Ed.), Close engagements with artificial companions: Key social, psychological, ethical and design issues (pp. 63–74). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bryson, J. (2018). Patiency is not a virtue: The design of intelligent systems and systems of ethics. Ethics and Information Technology, 20, 15–26.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-018-9448-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bryson, J., Diamantis, M., & Grant, T. (2017). Of, for and by the people: The legal lacuna of synthetic persons. Artificial Intelligence and Law, 25(3), 273–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carter, A., & Palermos, O. (2016). Is having your computer compromised a personal assault? The ethics of extended cognition. Journal of the American Philosophical Association, 2(4), 542–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chalmers, D. (1996). The conscious mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Coeckelbergh, M. (2012). Growing moral relations: Critique of moral status ascription. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Coeckelbergh, M., & Gunkel, D. (2014). Facing animals: A relational, other-oriented approach to moral standing. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 27(5), 715–733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Coeckelbergh, M., & Gunkel, D. (2016). Response to “The problem of the question about animal ethics” by Michal Piekarski. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 29(4), 717–721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Danaher, J. (2018). Why we should create artificial offspring: Meaning and the collective afterlife. Science and Engineering Ethics, 24(4), 1097–1118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Graham, G. (2015). Behaviorism. Stanford Encyclopedia of the Philosophy, available at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/behaviorism/. Accessed 10 July 2018.
  14. Gruen, L. (2017). The moral status of animals. In Zalta (Ed.), Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-animal/.
  15. Guerrero, A. (2007). Don’t know, don’t kill: Moral ignorance, culpability, and caution. Philosophical Studies, 136, 59–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gunkel, D. (2011). The machine question. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  17. Gunkel, D. (2018a). The other question: Can and should robots have rights? Ethics and Information Technology, 20, 87–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gunkel, D. (2018b). Robot rights. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hare, S., & Vincent, N. (2016). Happiness, cerebroscopes and incorrigibility: The prospects for neuroeudaimonia. Neuroethics, 9(1), 69–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hauskeller, M. (2017). Automatic sweethearts for transhumanists. In J. Danaher & N. McArthur (Eds.), Robot sex: Social and ethical implications. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  21. Holland, A. (2016). The case against the case for procreative beneficence. Bioethics, 30(7), 490–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jaworska, A., & Tannenbaum, J. (2018). The grounds of moral status. In Zalta (Ed.), Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, available at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/grounds-moral-status/.
  23. Kaczor, C. (2011). The ethics of abortion. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Leong, B., & Selinger, E. (2019). Robot eyes wide shut: Understanding dishonest anthropomorphism. In 2019 Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency, pp. 299–308.Google Scholar
  25. Levinas, E. (1969). Totality and infinity: An essay on exteriority (A. Lingis, Trans.). Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University.Google Scholar
  26. Levy, D. (2009). The ethical treatment of artificially conscious robots. International Journal of Social Robotics, 1(3), 209–216.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s12369-009-0022-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lockhart, T. (2000). Moral uncertainty and its consequences. Oxford: OUP.Google Scholar
  28. Moller, D. (2011). Abortion and moral risk. Philosophy, 86, 425–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Neely, E. L. (2014). Machines and the moral community. Philosophy & Technology, 27(1), 97–111.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s13347-013-0114-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Nyholm, S., & Frank, L. E. (2017). From sex robots to love robots: Is mutual love with a robot possible? In J. Danaher & N. McArthur (Eds.), Robot sex: Social and ethical implications. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  31. Overall, C. (2011). Why have children? The ethical debate. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  32. Pardo, M., & Patterson, D. (2013). Minds, brains and law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Puryear, S. (2017). Schopenhauer on the rights of animals. European Journal of Philosophy, 25(2), 250–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Raoult, A., & Yampolskiy, R. (2018). Reviewing tests for machine consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, forthcoming—available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325498266_Reviewing_Tests_for_Machine_Consciousness. Accessed 28 March 2019.
  35. Regan, T. (1983). The case for animal rights. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  36. Saunders, B. (2015). Why procreative preferences may be moral—And why it may not matter if they aren’t. Bioethics, 29(7), 499–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Saunders, B. (2016). First, do no harm: Generalized procreative non-maleficence. Bioethics, 31, 552–558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Savulescu, J. (2001). Procreative beneficence: Why we should select the best children. Bioethics, 15, 413–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Schwitzgebel, E., & Garza, M. (2015). A defense of the rights of artificial intelligences. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 39(1), 89–119.  https://doi.org/10.1111/misp.12032.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sebo, J. (2018). The moral problem of other minds. The Harvard Review of Philosophy, 25, 51–70.  https://doi.org/10.5840/harvardreview20185913.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Singer, P. (1981). The expanding circle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Singer, P. (2009). Speciesism and moral status. Metaphilosophy, 40(3–4), 567–581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sparrow, R. (2012). Can machines be people? Reflections on the turing triage test. In P. Lin, K. Abney, & G. A. Bekey (Eds.), Robot ethics: The ethical and social implications of robotics (pp. 301–316). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  44. Stone, Z. (2017). Everything you need to know about Sophia, The World’s First Robot Citizen. Forbes 7th November 2017, available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/zarastone/2017/11/07/everything-you-need-to-know-about-sophia-the-worlds-first-robot-citizen/#4e76f02b46fa. Accessed 10 July 2018.
  45. Sumner, L. (1987). The moral foundations of rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Turing, A. (1950). Computing machinery and intelligence. Mind, 49, 433–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Tuvel, R. (2017). Defence of transracialism. Hypatia, 32(2), 263–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Vincent, J. (2017). Pretending to give robots citizenship helps no one. The Verge 30th October 2017, available at https://www.theverge.com/2017/10/30/16552006/robot-rights-citizenship-saudi-arabia-sophia. Accessed 10 July 2018.
  49. Warren, M. A. (2000). Moral status: Obligations to persons and other things. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Weatherson, B. (2014). Running risks morally. Philosophical Studies, 167, 141–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawNUI GalwayGalwayIreland

Personalised recommendations