Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 431–448 | Cite as

Distributed Cognition and Distributed Morality: Agency, Artifacts and Systems

  • Richard Heersmink
Original Paper


There are various philosophical approaches and theories describing the intimate relation people have to artifacts. In this paper, I explore the relation between two such theories, namely distributed cognition and distributed morality theory. I point out a number of similarities and differences in these views regarding the ontological status they attribute to artifacts and the larger systems they are part of. Having evaluated and compared these views, I continue by focussing on the way cognitive artifacts are used in moral practice. I specifically conceptualise how such artifacts (a) scaffold and extend moral reasoning and decision-making processes, (b) have a certain moral status which is contingent on their cognitive status, and (c) whether responsibility can be attributed to distributed systems. This paper is primarily written for those interested in the intersection of cognitive and moral theory as it relates to artifacts, but also for those independently interested in philosophical debates in extended and distributed cognition and ethics of (cognitive) technology.


Moral status of artifacts Moral agency Material agency Systems agency Neuroethics Responsibility Distributed moral cognition 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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