Is Ethics of Robotics about Robots? Philosophy of Robotics Beyond Realism and Individualilsm.

Mark Coeckelbergh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


If we are doing ethics of robotics, what exactly is the object of our inquiry? This paper challenges 'individualist' robot ontology and 'individualist' social philosophy of robots. It is argued that ethics of robotics should not study and evaluate robotics exclusively in terms of individual machines; instead we must consider a much larger set of possible objects of ethical evaluation. This analysis reveals robots as 'social' entities, but in a deeper sense than 'being capable of social interaction' or 'having social impact'. It turns out that ethics of robotics is not so much about single, independent machines but may concern artificial relational entities, larger wholes with robotic qualities, and material-cultural 'entities' such as practices or forms of life. It is concluded that if philosophy of robotics analyses these objects of inquiry, it is likely to deliver a richer and more relevant discussion of the ethical aspects of robotics. If we keep watching out for 'the robots' and 'the machines', we may well remain blind to the most urgent ethical challenges that await us.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-250
Number of pages10
JournalLaw, innovation and technology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Ontology
  • individualism
  • swarms
  • METIS-280154
  • IR-78573
  • Ethics of robotics
  • Networks
  • social philosophy


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