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

  • John DanaherEmail author
Original Research/Scholarship


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.


Robots Moral status Moral standing Ethical behaviourism Procreative beneficence 



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.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawNUI GalwayGalwayIreland

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