Date of Award

Spring 2021

Thesis Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Honors Bachelor of Arts




Dr. Tom Cook

Committee Member

Dr. Mario D'Amato

Committee Member

Dr. Daniel Myers


Machine ethics is an emerging, interdisciplinary field that focuses on if – and if so, how – machines can make ethical decisions autonomously. Through a close study of two positions on whether or not machines can be moral agents, this project sheds light on a clash of assumptions that is keeping the field of machine ethics in limbo. After making this clash of assumptions clear, I raise two questions which get at the scope of machine ethics itself: 1) What makes ethical decision-making different from other kinds of decision-making? 2) To what extent can machines engage with ethics and make ethical decisions? I address the first question by arguing that ethics is distinct because it requires the ability to understand and participate in human conventions. I address the second question by arguing that ethics has always been informed by our humanity, but machine ethics is an opportunity to expand our understanding of ethics so that machines can engage with it insofar as they are machines. This project aims to contribute to machine ethics by proposing a major shift in perspective, from a focus on human abilities to a focus on machines and their own radically novel abilities.