The Symbolic-Consequences Argument in the Sex Robot Debate

In John Danaher & Neil McArthur (eds.), Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (2017)
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This chapter examines a common objection to sex robots: the symbolic-consequences argument. According to this argument sex robots are problematic because they symbolise something disturbing about our attitude to sex-related norms such as consent and the status of our sex partners, and because of the potential consequences of this symbolism. After formalising this objection and considering several real-world uses of it, the chapter subjects it to critical scrutiny. It argues that while there are grounds for thinking that sex robots could symbolically represent a troubling attitude toward women (and maybe children) and the norms of interpersonal sexual relationships, the troubling symbolism is going to be removable in many instances and reformable in others. What will ultimately matter are the consequences of the symbolism but these consequences are likely to be difficult to ascertain. This may warrant an explicitly experimental approach to the development of this technology.

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John Danaher
University College, Galway


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