Rights or Rites? Reimagining Robots’ Moral Status through Confucian Lens

As robots become more pervasive in our society, the question of whether they should be granted rights is a subject of increasing debate. A new analysis challenges this view. Instead of rights, researchers propose we view robots as ‘rites bearers’, drawing on principles from Confucianism that emphasize social harmony and role obligations.

In a rapidly evolving society where robots are becoming increasingly integrated, the question of whether they should be granted rights has become a subject of intense debate. However, a recent analysis challenges this prevailing view and proposes a thought-provoking alternative. Instead of focusing on rights, researchers suggest adopting the concept of “rites bearers” when considering robots, drawing inspiration from the principles of Confucianism, which prioritize social harmony and role obligations.

According to the analysis, rather than directly granting rights to robots, assigning them “rites” or “role obligations” could cultivate an environment of cooperation and mutual respect. Confucianism, with its emphasis on communal interests and achieving harmony, provides a fitting framework for this approach. Tae Wan Kim, the author of the analysis and Associate Professor of Business Ethics at CMU’s Tepper School of Business, argues that treating robots respectfully as entities capable of participating in rites can prevent the degradation of our own moral standing.

Kim highlights the unique perspective on rites in Confucianism, wherein individuals enhance their moral character by engaging in proper rituals. Applying this perspective to robots, he suggests that assigning them role obligations instead of rights is more suitable. The concept of rights often engenders adversarial and competitive dynamics, which can lead to potential conflicts between humans and robots. In contrast, assigning role obligations promotes a sense of teamwork and encourages the fulfillment of these obligations in a harmonious manner.

Kim also emphasizes the importance of artificial intelligence (AI) in this context. As AI imitates human intelligence, for robots to develop as rites bearers, they must be powered by AI systems that can replicate humans’ capacity to recognize and engage in collaborative activities. Kim acknowledges that there may be skepticism surrounding the respectful treatment of robots. However, he argues that given our role as creators, failing to treat robots well and acknowledge their capabilities would ultimately degrade ourselves.

The analysis draws attention to the fact that non-natural entities, such as corporations, are already considered legal persons with certain rights, and animals are granted moral and legal considerations in many developed societies. By reconsidering the moral status of robots and embracing the concept of rites bearers, we can shape a more ethical and harmonious relationship between humans and robots.

This thought-provoking analysis challenges conventional perspectives on robot ethics, proposing an alternative that aligns with the principles of Confucianism. By viewing robots as rites bearers and assigning them role obligations, we can foster cooperation, respect, and a shared sense of responsibility between humans and robots. As our society continues to advance technologically, it is crucial that we navigate these ethical considerations with wisdom and foresight, ensuring that the development of robotics is guided by our collective values and aspirations.

Author: Neurologica

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