One of the real perks of supervising PhD students is that they tend to force you outside your established academic comfort zone, and explore new territories of philosophical inquiry. This is what has happened when I have followed the footsteps and eventually joined the work of Dorna Behdadi, who is pursuing a PhD project in our practical philosophy group on the theme of Moral Agency in Animals and Machines. She has led the work on a new paper, where I am co-authour, that is now available online as a so-called preprint, while it is being considered for publication by a scientific journal. The title of the paper is "Artificial Moral Agency: Reviewing Philosophical Assumptions and Methodological Challenges", and deals with the notion of machines or any artificial entity (possibly a very advanced not yet existing one) could ever be ascribed agency of a moral sort, that might imply moral wrongdoing, responsibility for such wrongdoing (by the machine), or similar things.
Tts abstract runs thus:
The emerging field of "machine ethics" has raised the issue of the moral agency and responsibility of artificial entities, like computers and robots, under the heading of "artificial moral agents" (AMA). We analyze the philosophical assumptions at play in this debate and conclude that it is characterized by a rather pronounced conceptual and/or terminological confusion. Mostly, this confusion regards how central concepts and expressions (like agency, autonomy, responsibility, free will, rationality, consciousness) are (assumed to be) related to each other. This, in turn, creates a lack of basis for assessing either to what extent proposed positions and arguments are compatible or not, or whether or not they at all address the same issue. Furthermore, we argue that the AMA debate would benefit from assessing some underlying methodological issues, for instance, regarding the relationship between conceptual, epistemic, pragmatic and ethical reasons and positions. Lastly, because this debate has some family resemblance to debates on the moral status of various kinds of beings, the AMA discussion needs to acknowledge that there exists a challenge of demarcation regarding what kind of entities that can and should be ascribed moral agency.The paper can be viewed and downloaded for free here and here.