Qin Zhu and Tom Williams and Ruchen Wen


Journal of Contemporary Eastern Asia

Publication Year

Dominant approaches to designing morally capable robots have been mainly based on rulebased ethical frameworks such as deontology and consequentialism. These approaches have encountered both philosophical and computational limitations. They often struggle to accommodate remarkably diverse, unstable, and complex contexts of human-robot interaction. Roboticists and philosophers have recently been exploring underrepresented ethical traditions such as virtuous, role-based, and relational ethical frameworks for designing morally capable robots. This paper employs the lens of ethical pluralism to examine the notion of role-based morality in the global context and discuss how such cross-cultural analysis of role ethics can inform the design of morally competent robots. In doing so, it first provides a concise introduction to ethical pluralism and how it has been employed as a method to interpret issues in computer and information ethics. Second, it reviews specific schools of thought in Western ethics that derive morality from role-based obligations. Third, it presents a more recent effort in Confucianism to reconceptualize Confucian ethics as a role-based ethic. This paper then compares the shared norms and irreducible differences between Western and Eastern approaches to role ethics. Finally, it discusses how such examination of pluralist views of role ethics across cultures can be conducive to the design of morally capable robots sensitive to diverse value systems in the global context.