Online-Talk by Charles Ess: “Virtues, Robots and Good Lives: Who Cares?”

On May 13th 2021, 18:00 CET Charles Ess (professor emeritus at the University of Oslo) will give an Online-Talk on „Virtues, Robots and Good Lives: Who Cares?“.

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A good deal of the ethical considerations regarding our possible lives with robots draws from various forms of virtue ethics. As a first catalyst, I briefly recall my initial discussion in these directions – namely, an evalu-ation of sex with robots via the feminist-phenomenological lens of Sara Ruddick (1975).

Such an approach, however, presumes a philosophical anthropology – including some form of hu-manism. There have been some important lessons regarding „decentering the human“ over the past several decades, however, including feminist, postmodernist, postcolonial, and decolonial critiques. This decentering has unquestionably vital ethical, social, and political benefits – most broadly, in my view, as it undermines several dualisms that undergird modernist humanism, e.g., mind/body, male/female, human/technology/na-ture, and so on. In doing so, these shifts entail vitally important moves towards more ecological and holistic understandings of human selves as relational beings inextricably interwoven with human and non-human “Others.” This decentering turn towards non-dualistic ontologies and metaphysics issues in an affirmation of the foundational goodness of all about us.

At the same time, it entails more positive affirmations of robots (along with other technologies) and thereby alternative evaluations of their moral status and our possible ethical duties and relationships with them. To head in these directions encompasses three central elements. First of all, in order to preserve and enhance democratic rights and norms of equality, emancipation, and disobedience, central elements of the modern human must be preserved in a posthumanist philosophical anthropology (Ess 2021). Secondly, recent explorations of a “more than human” ethics of care (Tronto 1993, Puig de la Bellacasa 2012, 2017, Mörtberg 2021) expand notions of human-centric care (and virtue) ethics to encompass these larger domains of robots, technologies, and the larger natural (and, for some, “supernatural”) worlds. This approach means more broadly a posture of “repairment” that, finally, resonates with several other philosophical and religious frameworks emphasing human responsibilities to a larger “material” / created order. All of these, in turn, not only have multiple implications for how we may eventually engage with robots and technologies more broadly – but with the larger ecological orders and the all but certain catastrophic crises now bearing down on us and the planet.


Ess, Charles. 2021. Towards an Existential and Emancipatory Ethic of Technology, in: Shannon Vallor (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Technology. Online Publication Date: Jan 2021 DOI: 10.1093/ox-fordhb/9780190851187.013.35
Mörtberg, Christina. 2021. Thinking-with Care: Transition from Recovery to Repairment. Keynote lecture, IFIP WG9.8 Workshop, “Work, Place, Mobility and Embodiment: «Recovery» or Repairment in a Covid and Eventually Post-Covid World?. April 16, Linköping, Sweden.
Puig de la Bellacasa, María. 2012. “‘Nothing Comes Without Its World’: Thinking with Care.” The Sociological Review 60 (2):197–216. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-954X.2012.02070.x.
Puig de la Bellacasa, María. 2017. Matters of care: speculative ethics in more than human worlds. Minneap-olis: University of Minnesota Press)
Ruddick, Sara. 1975. Better Sex. In Philosophy and Sex, edited by Robert Baker and Frederick Elliston, 280–299. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
Tronto, Joan C. (1993). Moral boundaries: a political argument for an ethic of care. London: Routledge.

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