digital computing

Eth­i­cal Bi­o­log­i­cal Nat­u­ral­ism and the Case Against Moral Sta­tus for AIs

This article received an honourable mention in the graduate category of the 2023 National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by University of Oxford student Samuel Iglesias



6.522. “There are, in­deed, things that can­not be put into words. They make them­selves man­i­fest. They are what is mys­ti­cal”. —Lud­wig Wittgen­stein, Trac­ta­tus Logi­co Philo­soph­icus.

What de­ter­mines whether an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence has moral sta­tus? Do men­tal states, such as the vivid and con­scious feel­ings of plea­sure or pain, mat­ter? Some ethicists ar­gue that “what goes on in the in­side mat­ters great­ly” (Ny­holm and Frank 2017). Oth­ers, like John Dana­her, ar­gue that “per­for­ma­tive ar­ti­fice, by it­self, can be suf­ficient to ground a claim of moral sta­tus” (2018). This view, called eth­i­cal be­hav­ior­ism, “re­spects our epis­temic lim­its” and states that if an en­ti­ty “con­sis­tent­ly be­haves like anoth­er en­ti­ty to whom we af­ford moral sta­tus, then it should be grant­ed the same moral sta­tus.” Continue reading