Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 851–872 | Cite as

Autonomous Machines, Moral Judgment, and Acting for the Right Reasons

  • Duncan Purves
  • Ryan Jenkins
  • Bradley J. Strawser


Modern weapons of war have undergone precipitous technological change over the past generation and the future portends even greater advances. Of particular interest are so-called ‘autonomous weapon systems’ (henceforth, AWS), that will someday purportedly have the ability to make life and death targeting decisions ‘on their own.’ Many have strong moral intuitions against such weapons, and public concern over AWS is growing. A coalition of several non-governmental organizations, for example, has raised the alarm through their highly publicized ‘Campaign to Stop Killer Robots’ in an effort to enact an international ban on fully autonomous weapons.1 Despite the strong and widespread sentiments against such weapons, however, proffered philosophical arguments against AWS are often found lacking in substance.

We propose that the prevalent moral aversion to AWS is supported by a pair of compelling objections. First, we argue that even a sophisticated robot is not the kind of...


Killing War Autonomous Autonomous weapons Just war theory Right reasons Moral judgment Driverless cars Responsibility Artificial intelligence 



The authors are indebted to many people for helpful contributions. In particular, we thank Rob Sparrow, David Rodin, Jonathan Parry, Cecile Fabre, Rob Rupert, Andrew Chapman, Leonard Kahn, and two anonymous referees for help on this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Duncan Purves
    • 1
  • Ryan Jenkins
    • 2
  • Bradley J. Strawser
    • 3
  1. 1.University of WyomingLaramieUSA
  2. 2.California Polytechnic State UniversitySan Luis ObispoUSA
  3. 3.Naval Postgraduate SchoolMontereyUSA

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