Do zombie robots have rights? Towards a social-relational justification of moral consideration

Mark Coeckelbergh

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherOther research output


Should we grant moral consideration to artificially intelligent robots? Current robots do not meet the hard criteria set by current theories of moral status (consciousness, sentience, etc.) This is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. At most, we will have ‘robot zombies’ that imitate consciousness, intentionality, sentience, emotions and other human features. Moreover, existing theories incur problems of consistency (comparable to the argument from marginal cases in animal ethics) and invite epistemological scepticism: How can we know for sure that an entity possesses a particular mental feature? In response to these difficulties, I offer an argument for moral consideration based on social relations. This can justify the intuition that we should grant some degree of moral consideration to artificially intelligent robots that participate in the social life. However, I also show that in order to further support this argument we need to we revise our existing ontological and social-political frameworks. A social-relational perspective cannot simply be added to existing accounts but challenges basic concepts such as intrinsic properties, the individual, and the natural/artificial distinction. Exploring the idea of a social ecology, I suggest an alternative approach to moral consideration that may assist us in shaping our relations to intelligent robots and, by extension, our relations to all artificial and biological entities that appear to us as more than instruments for our human purposes.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2010
EventLife and Mind seminar: Centre for Cognitive Science (COGS) seminar - University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Jan 201726 Jan 2017


SeminarLife and Mind seminar
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • IR-76186


Dive into the research topics of 'Do zombie robots have rights? Towards a social-relational justification of moral consideration'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this