Welcoming Robots into the Moral Circle: A Defence of Ethical Behaviourism

Science and Engineering Ethics 26 (4):2023-2049 (2020)
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Abstract

Can robots have significant moral status? This is an emerging topic of debate among roboticists and ethicists. This paper makes three contributions to this debate. First, it presents a theory – ‘ethical behaviourism’ – which holds that robots can have significant moral status if they are roughly performatively equivalent to other entities that have significant moral status. This theory is then defended from seven objections. Second, taking this theoretical position onboard, it is argued that the performative threshold that robots need to cross in order to be afforded significant moral status may not be that high and that they may soon cross it (if they haven’t done so already). Finally, the implications of this for our procreative duties to robots are considered, and it is argued that we may need to take seriously a duty of ‘procreative beneficence’ towards robots.

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John Danaher
University College, Galway

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