Philosophical Disquisitions #5
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Welcome to the fifth edition of the Philosophical Disquisitions newsletter. It has been a busy month. Lots of talks about robots, sex and the future of work over the past few weeks. On February 4th I gave a talk at TEDxWHU about symbols and sex robots (text below). On February 8th I was at the Science Gallery in Dublin giving a talk to their staff on the same topic in advance of the Humans Need Not Apply exhibit. On February 21st I'm talking at De Montfort University in Leicester about robot relationships. I was also interviewed for the Irish Times about automation and meaning. Fortunately, I still managed to squeeze in some blogging and reading...

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The Experience Machine Argument

Would you want to live in an artificial world? Robert Nozick's famous thought experiment posed that very question:
The Experience Machine: “Imagine a machine that could give you any experience (or sequence of experiences) you might desire. When connected to this experience machine, you can have the experience of writing a great poem or bring about world peace or loving someone and being loved in return. You can experience the felt pleasures of these things, how they “feel from the inside”. You can program your experiences for…the rest of your life. If your imagination is impoverished, you can use the library of suggestions extracted from biographies and enhanced by novelists and psychologists. You can live your fondest dreams “from the inside”. Would you choose to do this for the rest of your life?…Upon entering you will not remember having done this; so no pleasures will get ruined by realizing they are machine-produced.” 

(Nozick 1989, 104)

Nozick suggests that the answer to the question is 'no' and that this tells us something important about what is valuable. But what is the argument that derives from this thought experiment? Ben Bramble has written a nice article about this and I analysed that article in one of my recent blogposts....

Should we campaign against sex robots?

This is an advance copy of a chapter that's appearing in my edited collection (co-edited with Neil McArthur) Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2017 - forthcoming). I wrote it with Brian Earp and Anders Sandberg.

Abstract In September 2015 a well-publicised Campaign Against Sex Robots  (CASR) was launched. Modelled on the longer-standing Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the CASR opposes the development of sex robots on the grounds that the technology is being developed with a particular model of female-male relations (the prostitute-john model) in mind, and that this will prove harmful in various ways. In this chapter, we consider carefully the merits of campaigning against such a technology. We make three main arguments. First, we argue that the particular claims advanced by the CASR are unpersuasive, partly due to a lack of clarity about the campaign’s aims and partly due to substantive defects in the main ethical objections put forward by campaign’s founder(s). Second, broadening our inquiry beyond the arguments proferred by the campaign itself, we argue that it would be very difficult to endorse a general campaign against sex robots unless one embraced a highly conservative attitude towards the ethics of sex, which is likely to be unpalatable to those who are active in the campaign. In making this argument we draw upon lessons from the campaign against killer robots. Finally, we conclude by suggesting that although a generalised campaign against sex robots is unwarranted, there are legitimate concerns that one can raise about the development of sex robots.

Read it for free now on and Research Gate. The book itself will be published this Autumn/Fall.

Best of the Blog


The Algorithmic Self Workshop

This is a video of my talk 'The Algorithmic Self in Love' from the Algorithmic Self workshop, which I hosted at NUI Galway on the 29th January. The workshop dealt with the ethics and politics of personal tracking and self-quantification in various domains of human life. You can watch all the videos from the event the following link: 


I am doing a podcast as part of my Algocracy and Transhumanism Project. You can subscribe here and here. Here the two most recent episodes:

  • Episode #18 - Jonathan Pugh on Enhancement and Bio-ConservatismIn this episode I talk to Jonathan Pugh about bio-conservatism and human enhancement. Jonny is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Applied Moral Philosophy at The University of Oxford, on the Wellcome Trust funded project “Neurointerventions in Crime Prevention: An Ethical Analysis”. His new paper, written with Guy Kahane and Julian Savulescu,  ‘Bio-Conservatism, Partiality, and The Human Nature Objection to Enhancement’ is due out soon in The Monist.
  • Episode #19 - Andrew G Ferguson on Predictive Policing: In this episode I talk to Andrew Guthrie Ferguson about the past, present and future of predictive policing. Andrew is a Professor at the David A Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia. He is formerly a supervising attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. He now teaches and writes in the area of criminal law, criminal procedure, and evidence. We discuss the ideas and arguments from his recent paper ‘Policing Predictive Policing.

Recommended Reading 

Recommended Books

I read a slightly hodge-podge selection of books this month. Some good, but nothing amazing (apart from the Robert Caro book but I've recommended it in the past):
  • Against Empathy (Paul Bloom): Argues that empathy (defined as the capacity to feel someone else's pain/pleasure) is often a poor guide to moral decision-making. Bloom has been pushing the thesis for a few years so there is nothing that new here, but the book is a very easy read.
  • The Courtier and the Heretic (Matthew Stewart): A nice dual biography of Leibniz and Spinoza. Easy to read with good information on the historical context in which they both operated as well as the substance of their philosophies. Leibniz doesn't come across well.
  • The Means of Ascent (Robert Caro): The second volume in Caro's mammoth biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson. This one details his election to the Senate in 1948. It's a pretty amazing story of corruption and fraud. And a useful reminder that politics has always been disturbing.


I read lots of interesting papers this month. Here are three of my favourites:

Why new technology is draining meaning from our lives

This is the title of an article by Joe Humphreys. It appeared in the Irish Times on the 4th of February. It features quite a number of quotes from me and was written to coincide with the launch of the Humans Need Not Apply Exhibit in the Science Gallery in Dublin.

Distributed on a Creative Commons License (Non-commercial-attribution)

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