A Philosopher's Blog

Kant & Sexbots

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on December 27, 2013

Robotina [005]

Robotina [005] (Photo credit: PVBroadz)

The Fox sci-fi buddy cop show Almost Human episode on sexbots inspired me to revisit the ethics of sexbots. While the advanced, human-like models of the show are still things of fiction, there is already considerable research and development devoted to creating sexbots. As such, it seems well worth considering the ethical issues involving sexbots real and fictional.

At this time, sexbots are clearly mere objects—while often made to look like humans, they do not have the qualities that would make them even person-like. As such, ethical concerns involving these sexbots would not involve concerns about wrongs done to such objects—presumably they cannot be wronged. One potentially interesting way to approach the matter of sexbots is to make use of Kant’s discussion of ethics and animals.

In his ethical theory Kant makes it quite clear that animals are means rather than ends. They are mere objects. Rational beings, in contrast, are ends. For Kant, this distinction rests on the fact that rational beings can (as he sees it) chose to follow the moral law. Animals, lacking reason, cannot do this. Since animals are means and not ends, Kant claims that we have no direct duties to animals. They are classified in with the other “objects of our inclinations” that derive value from the value we give them. Sexbots would, obviously, qualify as paradigm “objects of our inclinations.”

Interestingly enough, Kant argues that we should treat animals well. However, he does so while also trying to avoid ascribing animals themselves any moral status. Here is how he does it (or tries to do it).

While Kant is not willing to accept that we have any direct duties to animals, he “smuggles” in duties to them indirectly. As he puts it, our duties towards animals are indirect duties towards humans. To make his case for this, he employs an argument from analogy: if a human doing X would obligate us to that human, then an animal doing X would also create an analogous moral obligation. For example, a human who has long and faithfully served another person should not simply be abandoned or put to death when he has grown old. Likewise, a dog who has served faithfully and well should not be cast aside in his old age.

While this would seem to create an obligation to the dog, Kant uses a little philosophical sleight of hand here. The dog cannot judge (that is, the dog is not rational) so, as Kant sees it, the dog cannot be wronged. So, then, why would it be wrong to shoot the dog?

Kant’s answer seems to be rather consequentialist in character: he argues that if a person acts in inhumane ways towards animals (shooting the dog, for example) then his humanity will likely be damaged. Since, as Kant sees it, humans do have a duty to show humanity to other humans, shooting the dog would be wrong. This would not be because the dog was wronged but because humanity would be wronged by the shooter damaging his humanity through such a cruel act.

Interestingly enough, Kant discusses how people develop cruelty—they often begin with animals and then work up to harming human beings. As I point out to my students, Kant seems to have anticipated the psychological devolution of serial killers.

Kant goes beyond merely enjoining us to not be cruel to animals and encourages us to be kind to them. He even praises Leibniz for being rather gentle with a worm he found. Of course, he encourages this because those who are kind to animals will develop more humane feelings towards humans. So, roughly put, animals are essentially practice for us: how we treat them is training for how we will treat human beings.

In the case of the current sexbots, they obviously lack any meaningful moral status of their own. They do not feel or think—they are mere machines that might happen to be made to look like a human. As such, they lack all the qualities that might give them a moral status of their own.

Oddly enough, sexbots could be taken as being comparable to animals, at least as Kant sees them. After all, animals are mere objects and have no moral status of their own. Likewise for sexbots. Of course, the same is also true of sticks and stones. Yet Kant would never argue that we should treat stones well. Perhaps this would also apply to sexbots. That is, perhaps it makes no sense to talk about good or bad relative to such objects. Thus, a key matter to settle is whether sexbots are more like animals or more like stones—at least in regards to the matter at hand.

If Kant’s argument has merit, then the key concern about how non-rational beings are treated is how such treatment affects the behavior of the person engaging in said behavior. So, for example, if being cruel to a real dog could damage a person’s humanity, then he should (as Kant sees it) not be cruel to the dog.  This should also extend to sexbots. For example, if engaging in certain activities with a sexbot would damage a person’s humanity, then he should not act in that way. If engaging in certain behavior with a sexbot would make a person more inclined to be kind to other rational beings, then the person should engage in that behavior. It is also worth considering that perhaps people should not engage in any behavior with sexbots—that having sex of any kind with a bot would be damaging to the person’s humanity.

Interestingly enough (or boringly enough), this sort of argument is often employed to argue against people watching pornography. The gist of such arguments is that viewing pornography can condition people (typically men) to behave badly in real life or at least have a negative impact on their character. If pornography can have this effect, then it seems reasonable to be concerned about the potential impact of sexbots on people. After all, pornography casts a person in a passive role viewing other people acting as sexual objects, while a sexbot allows a person to have sex with an actual sexual object.

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  1. Patrick Sperry said, on December 27, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Interesting to be sure. My Ethics (Doing the good) Professor at UCD put me through the wringer over a situation that had happened the previous weekend. My beloved Labrador had ended up on the wrong side of a Coyote ambush, and I put her down. She was horribly injured and beyond help. It was a mercy kill, to be blunt. Yet, I still felt badly about it.

    I was pretty upset with my Professor. After all, he was blatantly anti firearm, hunting, hated the military, and the list just went on.

    After about a week I more or less “grew up.” It took me that long to realize that he was pretty much telling me that I had done the correct thing by ending my pet’s suffering and to stop being depressed about it.

  2. ajmacdonaldjr said, on December 27, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Sexbots wouldn’t be what’s best for us. Nor would we be truly happy with them. There is no substitute for a good, healthy heterosexual relationship. Anything else is always a distant — and poor — substitute. Always.

    We can give-in to our passions, and allow them to control us, or we can control them.

    “Thus, a good man, though a slave, is free; but a wicked man, though a king, is a slave. For he serves, not one man alone, but, what is worse, as many masters as he has vices.” ~ St. Augustine

    When a society no longer encourages people to control their sexual passions, but rather excites and permits these passions to be expressed, which the people think of as liberation from old fashioned and outdated morals, the heavy hand of government will be brought in to control the society (= a police state enforced form of slavery).

    Think about it… which came to the USA first?

    The police state?

    Or the exciting and permitting of uncontrolled sexual passions?

    Perhaps this was the plan all along?

    The sexual liberation of the 1960s has led to the police state of the 2000s.

    Look at Weimar Germany, just before World War II…

    First the excitement and permission of moral decadence, then the police state… and then the war.

    Is America following this same path?

    I think so…

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    This expanded edition includes “Sex Magic and the Occult,” documenting German pagan cults and their often-bizarre erotic rituals, including instructions for entering into the “Sexual Fourth Dimension.”

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  3. TJB said, on December 27, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Watch for a huge pushback against sexbots from women.

  4. magus71 said, on December 28, 2013 at 9:05 am

    “To make his case for this, he employs an argument from analogy: if a human doing X would obligate us to that human, then an animal doing X would also create an analogous moral obligation.”

    So when the pug craps on my rug, what then? I argue that we treat dogs better than humans, at least in this country.

  5. magus71 said, on December 29, 2013 at 6:55 am

    For you TJ, more Paglia. As you can see, I’m not the only one that thinks Western Civilization may very well follow the Dodo faster than most people believed possible. I’m also not the only one that thinks gays being born that way is remarkably unsupported by scientific data. Paglia, a lesbian, states this idea is “the biggest canard,” I only ask for honesty when analyzing motivation. Paglia is just the gadfly the Left needs. But she won’t be enough to stop civilizational decline.


    ‘What you’re seeing is how a civilization commits suicide,” says Camille Paglia. This self-described “notorious Amazon feminist” isn’t telling anyone to Lean In or asking Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. No, her indictment may be as surprising as it is wide-ranging: The military is out of fashion, Americans undervalue manual labor, schools neuter male students, opinion makers deny the biological differences between men and women, and sexiness is dead. And that’s just 20 minutes of our three-hour conversation.

    When Ms. Paglia, now 66, burst onto the national stage in 1990 with the publishing of “Sexual Personae,” she immediately established herself as a feminist who was the scourge of the movement’s establishment, a heretic to its orthodoxy. Pick up the 700-page tome, subtitled “Art and Decadence From Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, ” and it’s easy to see why. “If civilization had been left in female hands,” she wrote, “we would still be living in grass huts.”

    The fact that the acclaimed book—the first of six; her latest, “Glittering Images,” is a survey of Western art—was rejected by seven publishers and five agents before being printed by Yale University Press only added to Ms. Paglia’s sense of herself as a provocateur in a class with Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. But unlike those radio jocks, Ms. Paglia has scholarly chops: Her dissertation adviser at Yale was Harold Bloom, and she is as likely to discuss Freud, Oscar Wilde or early Native American art as to talk about Miley Cyrus.

    Ms. Paglia relishes her outsider persona, having previously described herself as an egomaniac and “abrasive, strident and obnoxious.” Talking to her is like a mental CrossFit workout. One moment she’s praising pop star Rihanna (“a true artist”), then blasting ObamaCare (“a monstrosity,” though she voted for the president), global warming (“a religious dogma”), and the idea that all gay people are born gay (“the biggest canard,” yet she herself is a lesbian).

    Enlarge Image
    Neil Davies

    But no subject gets her going more than when I ask if she really sees a connection between society’s attempts to paper over the biological distinction between men and women and the collapse of Western civilization.

    She starts by pointing to the diminished status of military service. “The entire elite class now, in finance, in politics and so on, none of them have military service—hardly anyone, there are a few. But there is no prestige attached to it anymore. That is a recipe for disaster,” she says. “These people don’t think in military ways, so there’s this illusion out there that people are basically nice, people are basically kind, if we’re just nice and benevolent to everyone they’ll be nice too. They literally don’t have any sense of evil or criminality.”

    The results, she says, can be seen in everything from the dysfunction in Washington (where politicians “lack practical skills of analysis and construction”) to what women wear. “So many women don’t realize how vulnerable they are by what they’re doing on the street,” she says, referring to women who wear sexy clothes.

    When she has made this point in the past, Ms. Paglia—who dresses in androgynous jackets and slacks—has been told that she believes “women are at fault for their own victimization.” Nonsense, she says. “I believe that every person, male and female, needs to be in a protective mode at all times of alertness to potential danger. The world is full of potential attacks, potential disasters.” She calls it “street-smart feminism.”

    Ms. Paglia argues that the softening of modern American society begins as early as kindergarten. “Primary-school education is a crock, basically. It’s oppressive to anyone with physical energy, especially guys,” she says, pointing to the most obvious example: the way many schools have cut recess. “They’re making a toxic environment for boys. Primary education does everything in its power to turn boys into neuters.”

    She is not the first to make this argument, as Ms. Paglia readily notes. Fellow feminist Christina Hoff Sommers has written about the “war against boys” for more than a decade. The notion was once met with derision, but now data back it up: Almost one in five high-school-age boys has been diagnosed with ADHD, boys get worse grades than girls and are less likely to go to college.

    Ms. Paglia observes this phenomenon up close with her 11-year-old son, Lucien, whom she is raising with her ex-partner, Alison Maddex, an artist and public-school teacher who lives 2 miles away. She sees the tacit elevation of “female values”—such as sensitivity, socialization and cooperation—as the main aim of teachers, rather than fostering creative energy and teaching hard geographical and historical facts.

    By her lights, things only get worse in higher education. “This PC gender politics thing—the way gender is being taught in the universities—in a very anti-male way, it’s all about neutralization of maleness.” The result: Upper-middle-class men who are “intimidated” and “can’t say anything. . . . They understand the agenda.” In other words: They avoid goring certain sacred cows by “never telling the truth to women” about sex, and by keeping “raunchy” thoughts and sexual fantasies to themselves and their laptops.

    Politically correct, inadequate education, along with the decline of America’s brawny industrial base, leaves many men with “no models of manhood,” she says. “Masculinity is just becoming something that is imitated from the movies. There’s nothing left. There’s no room for anything manly right now.” The only place you can hear what men really feel these days, she claims, is on sports radio. No surprise, she is an avid listener. The energy and enthusiasm “inspires me as a writer,” she says, adding: “If we had to go to war,” the callers “are the men that would save the nation.”

    And men aren’t the only ones suffering from the decline of men. Women, particularly elite upper-middle-class women, have become “clones” condemned to “Pilates for the next 30 years,” Ms. Paglia says. “Our culture doesn’t allow women to know how to be womanly,” adding that online pornography is increasingly the only place where men and women in our sexless culture tap into “primal energy” in a way they can’t in real life.

    A key part of the remedy, she believes, is a “revalorization” of traditional male trades—the ones that allow women’s studies professors to drive to work (roads), take the elevator to their office (construction), read in the library (electricity), and go to gender-neutral restrooms (plumbing).

    ” Michelle Obama’s going on: ‘Everybody must have college.’ Why? Why? What is the reason why everyone has to go to college? Especially when college is so utterly meaningless right now, it has no core curriculum” and “people end up saddled with huge debts,” says Ms. Paglia. What’s driving the push toward universal college is “social snobbery on the part of a lot of upper-middle-class families who want the sticker in the window.”

    Ms. Paglia, who has been a professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia since 1984, sees her own students as examples. “I have woodworking students who, even while they’re in class, are already earning money making furniture and so on,” she says. “My career has been in art schools cause I don’t get along with normal academics.”

    To hear her tell it, getting along has never been Ms. Paglia’s strong suit. As a child, she felt stifled by the expectations of girlhood in the 1950s. She fantasized about being a knight, not a princess. Discovering pioneering female figures as a teenager, most notably Amelia Earhart, transformed Ms. Paglia’s understanding of what her future might hold.

    These iconoclastic women of the 1930s, like Earhart and Katharine Hepburn, remain her ideal feminist role models: independent, brave, enterprising, capable of competing with men without bashing them. But since at least the late 1960s, she says, fellow feminists in the academy stopped sharing her vision of “equal-opportunity feminism” that demands a level playing field without demanding special quotas or protections for women.

    She proudly recounts her battle, while a graduate student at Yale in the late 1960s and early ’70s, with the New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band over the Rolling Stones: Ms. Paglia loved “Under My Thumb,” a song the others regarded as chauvinist. Then there was the time she “barely got through the dinner” with a group of women’s studies professors at Bennington College, where she had her first teaching job, who insisted that there is no hormonal difference between men and women. “I left before dessert.”

    In her view, these ideological excesses bear much of the blame for the current cultural decline. She calls out activists like Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf and Susan Faludi for pushing a version of feminism that says gender is nothing more than a social construct, and groups like the National Organization for Women for making abortion the singular women’s issue.

    By denying the role of nature in women’s lives, she argues, leading feminists created a “denatured, antiseptic” movement that “protected their bourgeois lifestyle” and falsely promised that women could “have it all.” And by impugning women who chose to forgo careers to stay at home with children, feminists turned off many who might have happily joined their ranks.

    But Ms. Paglia’s criticism shouldn’t be mistaken for nostalgia for the socially prescribed roles for men and women before the 1960s. Quite the contrary. “I personally have disobeyed every single item of the gender code,” says Ms. Paglia. But men, and especially women, need to be honest about the role biology plays and clear-eyed about the choices they are making.

    Sex education, she says, simply focuses on mechanics without conveying the real “facts of life,” especially for girls: “I want every 14-year-old girl . . . to be told: You better start thinking what do you want in life. If you just want a career and no children you don’t have much to worry about. If, however, you are thinking you’d like to have children some day you should start thinking about when do you want to have them. Early or late? To have them early means you are going to make a career sacrifice, but you’re going to have more energy and less risks. Both the pros and the cons should be presented.”

    For all of Ms. Paglia’s barbs about the women’s movement, it seems clear that feminism—at least of the equal-opportunity variety—has triumphed in its basic goals. There is surely a lack of women in the C-Suite and Congress, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a man who would admit that he believes women are less capable. To save feminism as a political movement from irrelevance, Ms. Paglia says, the women’s movement should return to its roots. That means abandoning the “nanny state” mentality that led to politically correct speech codes and college disciplinary committees that have come to replace courts. The movement can win converts, she says, but it needs to become a big tent, one “open to stay-at-home moms” and “not just the career woman.”

    More important, Ms. Paglia says, if the women’s movement wants to be taken seriously again, it should tackle serious matters, like rape in India and honor killings in the Muslim world, that are “more of an outrage than some woman going on a date on the Brown University campus.”

    Ms. Weiss is an associate editorial features editor at the Journal.


    • WTP said, on December 29, 2013 at 11:08 am

      The sh*t that academia has become can be summed up in this sentence right here! referencing a moment from several decades in the past:

      Then there was the time she “barely got through the dinner” with a group of women’s studies professors at Bennington College, where she had her first teaching job, who insisted that there is no hormonal difference between men and women. “I left before dessert.”

      Such idealism in the face of the most obvious aspects of reality is not uncommon amongst “educated” people. If such stupidity can survive decades, of what use or meaning is sh*t like Critical Theory or much of anything else in modern philosophy that sits idly by while utter nonsense is perpetuated? Unless, of course, modern philosophy needs such an environment in order to perpetuate its own BS.

      • magus71 said, on December 29, 2013 at 8:35 pm

        Yes, and this has been my point on so many issues. That empirical evidence is so rarely on the modern Left’s side. They make stuff up as they go along. It’s pretty much a giant fantasy world based on their notion what the world “should” be like. And every time they plug in a theory to make certain things that offend them right, they find that nature is not so easily fooled. But there’s always a government construct to bail them out on the infinitely deep pockets of the American population.

        • WTP said, on December 30, 2013 at 10:11 am

          The “Left” is one thing. They’re entitled to their perspective and perceptions. Academia is supposed to have a higher responsibility. So long as the Left gets its funding from private sources, so be it. Academia, even in the private school sector (excluding, of course any strongly conservative/reliogious institutions), gets much of its funding from government taking wealth from private individuals and institutions and is given to them either directly via subsidies or indirectly from “loans” many of which are never paid back in full and rarely, if ever, at the market rate for the risk involved.

          The vast majority of academics, especially in the lib arts etc., refuse to acknowledge this fact and thus also refuse to shoulder the responsibility that comes with their jobs. They have become a tax on our society on both ends.

          • magus71 said, on December 30, 2013 at 11:09 am

            I consider Academia part of the Left. I do not separate them, though there are Right-leaning academics. In fact, Academia is the vanguard of the Left. They empower the Left, because the Left can always appeal to authority through Academia. the Left can have their opinion and I’ll always be there to tell them they’re wrong on almost everything.

    • T. J. Babson said, on December 29, 2013 at 10:12 pm

      Paglia is always interesting, and sometimes she is even right…

  6. magus71 said, on December 30, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Libs always claim to have science on their side, especially when they’re quoting Richard Dawkins. They just don’t seem to do well when it comes to biology, sociology, economics, kinesiology, geology and history. Other than that, they have a monopoly.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 30, 2013 at 1:00 pm

      Some liberals are hostile to science-one not uncommon pattern is getting caught up in celebrities holding anti-science/bad science views. For example, some liberals jumped on the bad science of the anti-vaccine folks. There is no political monopoly on bad reasoning.

      • magus71 said, on December 30, 2013 at 1:25 pm

        Anti-vaccine is right wing?

        • apollonian said, on December 30, 2013 at 3:35 pm

          Ho ho ho–good one, magus. Vaccines are DESIGNED to kill–part of the AGENDA-21 genocide program of UN and “globalists” presently running USA and the world. Mike needs to get a clue. Ck https://s8-us2.startpage.com/do/search?cmd=process_search&pid=ce664da2e9a6467bf273bc2ee690b406

          • magus71 said, on December 30, 2013 at 3:40 pm

            Well I got my flu mist and I’m still alive. Of course if the Army gave me a choice I mostly wouldn’t get it, because its effectiveness is overstated and it takes time away from other stuff I want to do.

            • apollonian said, on December 30, 2013 at 3:52 pm

              Magus, good comrade, u could get urself OUT OUT OUT of the army if u really want to–they’re just using u as cannon-fodder, etc. Just tell them no more vaccines, which are designed to kill–way of Agenda-21 “de-population.” Additionally, vaccines infect u w. cancer, allergies, and other diseases, for which big-bro. health-care intends to make big money by now prescribing drugs, usually powerful and un-tested, making yet MORE money off u as they kill u slowly (“soft-kill”).

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 1, 2014 at 11:53 am

          Not really-as I recall, many of the anti-vaccine folks are liberals. But it seems bi-partisan. Remember how Bachmann reported that a vaccine had made someone’s daughter retarded.

          The right is usually anti-evolution and anti-climate change. The left usually is bad at the social and behavioral sciences.

          • WTP said, on January 1, 2014 at 12:46 pm

            The left usually is bad at the social and behavioral sciences.

            Which explains their ignorance and hubris in regard to economics. Certain philosophers included. Also, “anti-climate change”…what’s wrong with being anti-climate change, snark aside? Seems some climate changers have been caught fudging data or found their data to be incomplete and/or inaccurate lately. Yet where’s the humility? Where’s the objectivity? Where’s the science? Science politicized is not science. From either perspective..

  7. magus71 said, on December 30, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Mike, can we at least admit that there is a lower standard for dogs than humans? I have no problem with this, but praising the virtues of dogs over humans disingenuously ignores the fact that 99% of the comforts you enjoy in life do not come from dogs. It’s like the feminist/pacifist lines which forget that they are in fact enabled to prosper by those they despise.

    • T. J. Babson said, on December 31, 2013 at 11:19 pm

      Best line I’ve heard on this topic was from Ted Cruz: “Tolerance is a two-way street.”

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