Sympathy for Dolores: Moral Consideration for Robots Based on Virtue and Recognition
This paper motivates the idea that social robots should be credited as moral patients, building on an argumentative approach that combines virtue ethics and social recognition theory. Our proposal answers the call for a nuanced ethical evaluation of human-robot interaction that does justice to both the robustness of the social responses solicited in humans by robots and the fact that robots are designed to be used as instruments. On the one hand, we acknowledge that the instrumental nature of robots and their unsophisticated social capabilities prevent any attribution of rights to robots, which are devoid of intrinsic moral dignity and personal status. On the other hand, we argue that another form of moral consideration-not based on rights attribution-can and must be granted to robots. The reason is that relationships with robots offer to the human agents important opportunities to cultivate both vices and virtues, like social interaction with other human beings. Our argument appeals to social recognition to explain why social robots, unlike other technological artifacts, are capable of establishing with their human users quasi-social relationships as pseudo-persons. This recognition dynamic justifies seeing robots as worthy of moral consideration from a virtue ethical standpoint as it predicts the pre-reflective formation of persistent affective dispositions and behavioral habits that are capable of corrupting the human user's character. We conclude by drawing attention to a potential paradox drawn forth by our analysis and by examining the main conceptual conundrums that our approach has to face.