Friday, 20 June 2014

Two Biosemiotic ethics abstracts published on conference webpage

Two abstracts submitted to my session at the 12th World Congress of Semiotics (Sofia, Bulgaria, September 16-20 2014), "Biosemiotic ethics", have now been published on the session webpage:
* John Deely: "Ethics and the distinction between Semiosic and Semiotic"
* Panagiotis Xouplidis: "A semiotic approach to The Pet World"

The first abstract to be approved for this session was David Meacham's "The gentle caress of my robot lover, and other ethically difficult phenomena" (see below).

Deadline for submissions (directly to me) is June 30th.

The gentle caress of my robot lover, and other ethically difficult phenomena
Dr. Darian Meacham, University of the West of England, Bristol
Imagine for a moment coming home after a long day at work and slumping into the gentle arms of your robot companion, who rubs your temples tenderly, smiles warmly and says, ‘I know exactly how you feel’. Sound plausible, desirable? Would this, or another kind of intelligent machine, whatever that might mean, fulfill the necessary criteria for ‘ethical salience’? Would such an entity merit the moral status of a person, an animal, or would it be, due to the similar nature of its material composition, and its status as (supposedly) ‘non-living’, no different, ethically speaking, than a toaster? 
This paper investigates the question of what makes an entity ‘ethically salient’ using the above example of a robotic system as a test case. ‘Ethical salience’ is presented as a spectrum concept which entails an entity having an ethical significance in itself to a greater or lesser degree. ‘Ethical salience’ as such should be understood phenomenologically: an ethically salient entity is perceptually experienced as having an immediate ethical significance. The ethical salience of an entity is distinct from (although clearly related to) whatever specific ethical claims it may make on us not to harm it etc. For example, higher mammals would seemingly be uncontroversially candidates for ethically salience, but this fact is distinct, for example, from the question of whether we should eat them.
I argue that whether an entity has ethical salience is a question not of inner states of pain or suffering, or more broadly an ethical significance of life itself. Rather it is dependent upon certain types of expressive movement that manifest vulnerability. The manifestation of vulnerability in these types of movement, which function as signs that stimulate an experience of ethical salience, is independent from actual vulnerability. In other words, it is the sign that matters. This hypothesis is explored by drawing on the conceptual resources of Jakob von Uexküll’s biosemiotics and the phenomenological account of intersubjectivity, namely Edmund Husserl and Merleau-Ponty.  

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