A controversial question that has been hotly debated in the emerging field of robot ethics is whether robots should be granted rights. Yet, a review of the recent literature in that field suggests that this seemingly straightforward question is far from clear and unambiguous. For example, those who favor granting rights to robots have not always been clear as to which kinds of robots should (or should not) be eligible; nor have they been consistent with regard to which kinds of rights—civil, legal, moral, etc.—should be granted to qualifying robots. Also, there has been considerable disagreement about which essential criterion, or cluster of criteria, a robot would need to satisfy to be eligible for rights, and there is ongoing disagreement as to whether a robot must satisfy the conditions for (moral) agency to qualify either for rights or (at least some level of) moral consideration. One aim of this paper is to show how the current debate about whether to grant rights to robots would benefit from an analysis and clarification of some key concepts and assumptions underlying that question. My principal objective, however, is to show why we should reframe that question by asking instead whether some kinds of social robots qualify for moral consideration as moral patients. In arguing that the answer to this question is “yes,” I draw from some insights in the writings of Hans Jonas to defend my position.
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