Artificial consciousness and artificial ethics

between realism and social relationism

Steve Torrance

pp. 9-29

I compare a "realist" with a 'social–relational" perspective on our judgments of the moral status of artificial agents (AAs). I develop a realist position according to which the moral status of a being—particularly in relation to moral patiency attribution—is closely bound up with that being's ability to experience states of conscious satisfaction or suffering (CSS). For a realist, both moral status and experiential capacity are objective properties of agents. A social relationist denies the existence of any such objective properties in the case of either moral status or consciousness, suggesting that the determination of such properties rests solely upon social attribution or consensus. A wide variety of social interactions between us and various kinds of artificial agent will no doubt proliferate in future generations, and the social–relational view may well be right that the appearance of CSS features in such artificial beings will make moral role attribution socially prevalent in human–AA relations. But there is still the question of what actual CSS states a given AA is capable of undergoing, independently of the appearances. This is not just a matter of changes in the structure of social existence that seem inevitable as human–AA interaction becomes more prevalent. The social world is itself enabled and constrained by the physical world, and by the biological features of living social participants. Properties analogous to certain key features in biological CSS are what need to be present for nonbiological CSS. Working out the details of such features will be an objective scientific inquiry.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s13347-013-0136-5

Full citation:

Torrance, S. (2014). Artificial consciousness and artificial ethics: between realism and social relationism. Philosophy & Technology 27 (1), pp. 9-29.

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