The artificial view: Toward a non-anthropocentric account of moral patiency

Fabio Tollon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In this paper I provide an exposition and critique of the Organic View of Ethical Status, as outlined by Torrance (2008). A key presupposition of this view is that only moral patients can be moral agents. It is claimed that because artificial agents lack sentience, they cannot be proper subjects of moral concern (i.e. moral patients). This account of moral standing in principle excludes machines from participating in our moral universe. I will argue that the Organic View operationalises anthropocentric intuitions regarding sentience ascription, and by extension how we identify moral patients. The main difference between the argument I provide here and traditional arguments surrounding moral attributability is that I do not necessarily defend the view that internal states ground our ascriptions of moral patiency. This is in contrast to views such as those defended by Singer (1975, 2011) and Torrance (2008), where concepts such as sentience play starring roles. I will raise both conceptual and epistemic issues with regards to this sense of sentience. While this does not preclude the usage of sentience outright, it suggests that we should be more careful in our usage of internal mental states to ground our moral ascriptions. Following from this I suggest other avenues for further exploration into machine moral patiency which may not have the same shortcomings as the Organic View.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-155
Number of pages9
JournalEthics and Information Technology
Issue number2
Early online date1 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • machine moral patiency
  • sentience
  • anthropocentrism
  • intentional stance
  • organic view of ethical status


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