Why Care About Robots? Empathy, Moral Standing, and the Language of Suffering

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Abstract

This paper tries to understand the phenomenon that humans are able to empathize with robots and the intuition that there might be something wrong with “abusing” robots by discussing the question regarding the moral standing of robots. After a review of some relevant work in empirical psychology and a discussion of the ethics of empathizing with robots, a philosophical argument concerning the moral standing of robots is made that questions distant and uncritical moral reasoning about entities’ properties and that recommends first trying to understand the issue by means of philosophical and artistic work that shows how ethics is always relational and historical, and that highlights the importance of language and appearance in moral reasoning and moral psychology. It is concluded that attention to relationality and to verbal and non-verbal languages of suffering is key to understand the phenomenon under investigation, and that in robot ethics we need less certainty and more caution and patience when it comes to thinking about moral standing.

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