Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 71–79 | Cite as

Why unreal punishments in response to unreal crimes might actually be a really good thing

  • Marcus Johansson
Original Paper


In this article I explore ways to argue about punishment of personal representations in virtual reality. I will defend the idea that such punishing might sometimes be morally required. I offer four different lines of argument: one consequentialistic, one appealing to an idea of appropriateness, one using the notion of organic wholes, and one starting from a supposed inability to determine the limits of the extension of the moral agent. I conclude that all four approaches could, in some cases, justify punishing a virtual reality representation; an avatar. As a consequence of my conclusion, I suggest that our institutionalized criminal justice system must be broadened in scope and punitive measures, in order to cover the new and difficult cases arising in virtual reality.


Avatars Ethics in virtual reality Extended agents Punishment Retributive justice Virtual reality 


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Thanks are due to several people, only some of who I list here. In particular, I am indebted to Göran Collste, Bo Petersson and Martin Andersson, who all gave valuable comments on the article at some stage of its development. Also, the article benefited considerably by the comments of the journal’s anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Culture and CommunicationsLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden

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