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This paper presents an African relational view of social robots’ moral standing which draws on the philosophy of ubuntu (humanness). The introduction (Section 1) places the question of moral standing in historical and cultural contexts. Section 2 demonstrates an ubuntu framework by applying it to the fictional case of a social robot named Klara, taken from Ishiguro’s novel, Klara and the Sun. We argue that an ubuntu ethic assigns moral standing to Klara, based on her relational qualities and pro-social virtues. Section 3 introduces a second fictional case, taken from McKeown’s novel, Machines Like Me, in which a social robot named Adam displays intrinsic qualities, such as sentience, rationality, and deductive moral reasoning, yet lacks close social ties to particular people. We argue that Adam is not a person in the African sense; however, he qualifies as a person according to many standard Western views, such as Kantian and utilitarian ethics. Section 4 further elaborates the African relational view by comparing the moral standing of social robots and humans in a forced choice scenario. Section 5 replies to objections. We conclude that an African relational approach captures important insights about the moral standing of social robots that many Western accounts miss and should be better incorporated into global frameworks for designing and deploying social robots.

Original publication





Philosophy and Technology

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