Machine Intentionality, the Moral Status of Machines, and the Composition Problem

  • David Leech Anderson
Part of the Studies in Applied Philosophy, Epistemology and Rational Ethics book series (SAPERE, volume 5)


According to the most popular theories of intentionality, a family of theories we will refer to as “functional intentionality,” a machine can have genuine intentional states so long as it has functionally characterizable mental states that are causally hooked up to the world in the right way. This paper considers a detailed description of a robot that seems to meet the conditions of functional intentionality, but which falls victim to what I call “the composition problem.” One obvious way to escape the problem (arguably, the only way) is if the robot can be shown to be a moral patient – to deserve a particular moral status. If so, it isn’t clear how functional intentionality could remain plausible (something like “phenomenal intentionality” would be required). Finally, while it would have seemed that a reasonable strategy for establishing the moral status of intelligent machines would be to demonstrate that the machine possessed genuine intentionality, the composition argument suggests that the order of precedence is reversed: The machine must first be shown to possess a particular moral status before it is a candidate for having genuine intentionality.


Moral Status Moral Concern Externalist Theory Phenomenal Consciousness Intentional Content 
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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Illinois State UniversityNormalUSA

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