Can We Forgive a Robot?

  • Michael NagenborgEmail author
Part of the Techno:Phil – Aktuelle Herausforderungen der Technikphilosophie book series (TPAHT, volume 1)


Does it make sense to praise or blame robots for their behaviour? If we hold a robot fully responsible for its actions, how should we deal with that robot if it did something wrong? For example, if a robot murders a human being, should it be punished just like a human being who commits the very same crime? Can we actually punish a robot? While it is true that we need to think through how we can react to the wrongdoings of a robot if we are willing to hold the machine responsible for its actions, a different perspective is explored in the present contribution. Instead of asking, if we can punish a robot, the question should be if we can forgive a robot. The background of this inquiry is that forgiveness plays a crucial, yet often neglected role in human-human interactions. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that forgiveness will play a similar role in a society where humans and robots coexist and, at least, some of these robots are held responsible for their actions. The present paper is a speculative exercise to grasp what it could mean for human beings to live together with such machines and to demonstrate that “forgiving” provides us with an excellent lens to think through human-technology relations.



An earlier version of this chapter has been published in German:

Cordula Brandt, Jessica Heesen, Birgit Kröber, Uta Müller und Thomas Potthast (Hrsg.): Ethik in den KulturenKulturen in der Ethik. Tübingen: Narr Franke Attempto 2017, S. 291–300. ISBN 978-3-7720-8611-3.

I would like to thank Cordula Brandt for all her feedback on the German version. The extended English version has been presented at the Dutch-Japanese Workshop on Philosophy of Technology in Sendai in summer 2018. I would like to thank all the participants for their encouraging and useful feedback. Finally, I would like to thank Melis Baş for taking her time to discuss Hannah Arendt’s work with me.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of TwenteEnschedeNetherlands

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