When Should We Use Care Robots? The Nature-of-Activities Approach

Filippo Santoni de Sio, Amy Louise van Wynsberghe

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When should we use care robots? In this paper we endorse the shift from a simple normative approach to care robots ethics to a complex one: we think that one main task of a care robot ethics is that of analysing the different ways in which different care robots may affect the different values at stake in different care practices. We start filling a gap in the literature by showing how the philosophical analysis of the nature of healthcare activities can contribute to (care) robot ethics. We rely on the nature-of-activities approach recently proposed in the debate on human enhancement, and we apply it to the ethics of care robots. The nature-of-activities approach will help us to understand why certain practice-oriented activities in healthcare should arguably be left to humans, but certain (predominantly) goal-directed activities in healthcare can be fulfilled (sometimes even more ethically) with the assistance of a robot. In relation to the latter, we aim to show that even though all healthcare activities can be considered as practice-oriented, when we understand the activity in terms of different legitimate ‘fine-grained’ descriptions, the same activities or at least certain components of them can be seen as clearly goal-directed. Insofar as it allows us to ethically assess specific functionalities of specific robots to be deployed in well-defined circumstances, we hold the nature-of-activities approach to be particularly helpful also from a design perspective, i.e. to realize the Value Sensitive Design approach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1745-1760
JournalScience and engineering ethics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2016


  • METIS-313211
  • IR-98135


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