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Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology

Volume 20, Issue 3, 2016

Stevens F. Wandmacher
Pages 240-257
DOI: 10.5840/techne2016102858

The Bright Line of Ethical Agency

In his article The Nature, Importance, and Difficulty of Machine Ethics, James H. Moor distinguishes two lines of argument for those who wish to draw a “bright line” between full ethical agents, such as human beings, and “weaker” ethical agents, such as machines whose actions have significant moral ramifications. The first line of argument is that only full ethical agents are agents at all. The second is that no machine could have the presumed features necessary for ethical agency. This paper shows why Moor is mistaken in his refutation of the first line of argument; it also makes a positive case that “weaker” ethical agents are not agents at all. This positive case, however, allows Moor’s rejection of the second line of argument to stand: allowing that there could be moral machines, but that these machines would have to be full moral agents and not merely something that models moral behavior or can be used in morally charged ways.

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