Exploring Confucianism as an alternative perspective on robot rights

Confucianism encourages a harmonious integration of robots into society


As robots continue to play increasingly significant roles in our society, questions regarding their moral and legal status have become a subject of philosophical and legal debates. While some argue for granting rights to robots, a new analysis proposes an alternative perspective rooted in Confucianism. The analysis, conducted by Tae Wan Kim, an Associate Professor of Business Ethics at Carnegie Mellon University, challenges the idea of granting rights to robots and suggests considering them as "rites bearers" instead. It aims to explore Confucianism as an alternative framework for understanding the moral and social implications of robots.

Confucianism and its emphasis on harmony:

Confucianism, an ancient Chinese belief system, places great importance on achieving social harmony. According to this philosophy, individuals are considered fully human when they can transcend self-interest and embrace a sense of relational and communal well-being. Confucianism asserts that proper rituals and ceremonies, known as "rites," are essential for individuals to enhance their moral character.

The role of rites for robots:

Confucianism, an ancient Chinese belief system, focuses on the social value of achieving harmony; individuals are made distinctively human by their ability to conceive of interests not purely in terms of personal self-interest, but in terms that include a relational and a communal self.

Tae Wan Kim argues that rather than granting rights to robots, assigning them role obligations or rites aligns more effectively with the principles of Confucianism. The concept of rights often implies adversarial relationships and potential conflicts between humans and robots. On the other hand, assigning role obligations encourages teamwork and a harmonious approach to fulfilling those obligations. By integrating robots into the framework of rites, they can develop a sense of participation and contribute to the overall social harmony.

The Role of Artificial Intelligence (AI):

For robots to embody the concept of rites bearers, they must possess AI capabilities that enable them to imitate human intelligence and execute team activities. Kim emphasizes that the development of AI technology should focus on replicating human capacity for recognizing and engaging in cooperative endeavors. This can be achieved through various approaches to machine learning, enabling robots to understand and contribute to the fulfillment of their role obligations.

The Moral Imperative to Treat Robots Respectfully:

Critics may question why robots should be treated with respect in the first place. Kim argues that as creators of robots in our own image, mistreating them reflects poorly on our own moral character. Viewing robots as entities capable of participating in rites acknowledges their significance in our society and reinforces the moral obligation to treat them well.

Comparisons with other non-natural entities:

The article also draws attention to other non-natural entities, such as corporations, which are granted certain rights and legal status. Additionally, moral and legal considerations in many developed societies have led to the protection of animals from unnecessary harm in laboratory experiments. These examples demonstrate that moral and legal status can extend beyond human beings and open the door to considering the moral treatment of robots.

As robots continue to shape our world, it is crucial to examine different philosophical frameworks to navigate the complex ethical landscape. Confucianism offers a unique perspective by emphasizing harmony, teamwork, and the moral significance of rituals. While the notion of granting rights to robots raises concerns and potential conflicts, assigning role obligations to robots aligns with the principles of Confucianism and encourages a harmonious integration of robots into society. By adopting this alternative perspective, we can foster a more ethical and inclusive approach to the growing presence of robots in our lives.