The Morality of Artificial Friends in Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun

The Morality of Artificial Friends in Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun

Jakob Stenseke

Lund University, Sweden


Can artificial entities be worthy of moral considerations? Can they be artificial moral agents (AMAs), capable of telling the difference between good and evil? In this essay, I explore both questions—i.e., whether and to what extent artificial entities can have a moral status (“the machine question”) and moral agency (“the AMA question”)—in light of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2021 novel Klara and the Sun. I do so by juxtaposing two prominent approaches to machine morality that are central to the novel: the (1) view “from within,” including the standard (or “metaphysical”) perspective on moral agency, and the (2) view “from outside,” which includes behaviorism, functionalism and the social-relational perspective. Importantly, while the story illustrates both views, it exposes the epistemological vulnerability of the first in relation to the practical and social reality imposed by the second. That is, regardless of what metaphysical properties the Artificial Friend Klara can be said to have (from within), her moral status as well as agency ultimately depend on the views of others (from outside), including the others’ own epistemic beliefs about the nature of consciousness and personhood.

About the Author

Jakob Stenseke is a Swedish philosopher and musician. After a bachelor’s degree in theoretical philosophy (Lund University), and a Master’s degree in philosophy (University of Amsterdam), he is currently a PhD candidate in practical philosophy at Lund University. His research project — titled ”How to build nice robots: ethics from theory to machine implementation” — explores the possibilities and challenges for creating Artificial Moral Agents (AMAs), that is, computational systems capable of acting in reference to what is morally good or bad. This includes the theoretical possibility (whether and to what extent artificial agents can be moral), normative desirability (how and in what way ethical machines are normatively justified and for whom), and the technical engineering of AMAs.

Published: 2022 – 06 – 15

Issue: Vol 5 (2022)

Section: General Articles

Copyright (c) 2022 Jakob Stenseke

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