Utilitarian Approaches

Levy forwards an extensive range of primarily utilitarian considerations for what he sees as the sexbots of a not-too-distant future: such increasingly human-like robots will ostensibly entail economic benefits (from a growing industry) as well as “the likely reduction in teenage pregnancy, abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, and pedophilia”. And, of course, there’s simple physical pleasure, the core value for especially Benthamite utilitarians. A little more carefully: Levy highlights sex as desirable for the sake of pleasure, releasing tension and stress, the pursuit of novelty, and escaping boredom. At the climax (pun intended) of the book, Levy enthuses over a great pleasure circle: as new machine developments evoke new human desires, these will stoke still further innovation, resulting in “great sex on tap for everyone, 24/7”.

Deontological and virtue ethics considerations. Levy does take up one deontological consideration – namely, recognizing the rights of robots as they become more independent. Kathleen Richardson is one of Levy’s primary critics and founder of the “Campaign Against Sex Robots” (https://campaignagainstsexrobots.org/about). Broadly, Richardson questions whether or not the utilitarian benefits Levy proposes will actually come about. In addition, though she does not use the term, one of Richardson’s central critiques fits within virtue ethics: she emphasizes the importance of empathy, which she defines as “an ability to recognise, take into account and respond to another person’s genuine thoughts and feelings”. Part of her objection is that, by refocusing our desires and sexuality onto sexbots as compliant objects – i.e., devices that we purchase, turn on and off, sell off or dispose of – we no longer are required to conjoin love and sex with empathy. As we have seen, Shannon Vallor is even more explicit about the central importance of empathy as a virtue, as one of the most basic virtues (along with perseverance and patience) for human communication, friendship, and intimate relationships; these in turn seem to be prerequisites for good lives of flourishing 

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