Animals, Machines, and Moral Responsibility in a Built Environment
Philosophy of Technology
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AbstractNature has ended. Acid rain and global warming leave no place untouched by human hands. We can no longer think of 'the environment' as synonymous with 'nature'. Instead, Steven Vogel argues that the environment is more like a mall: it is built. And because we build the environment, we are responsible for it. Yet, other things build, too. Animals build and use tools. Machines and algorithms build everything from skyscrapers to cell phones. Are they responsible for what they build? While animals and robots are normally considered in distinct philosophical fields, Vogel’s rejection of the natural-artificial split prompts us to question the distinction between natural and artificial agents. I argue, under consistent reasons, that neither animals nor robots are morally responsible for what they do. When machines act in morally consequential ways, then, we cannot blame the robot. However, we usually think to blame those who built the robot. I present a theory of how a builder may be responsible for what they build. Then, I argue that there are cases where neither the robot nor the engineer can be blamed for the robot's actions. Drawing on Vogel, Karl Marx, and Martin Heidegger, I explore moral and environmental responsibility through meditations on animals and machines.