Adjunct Robots to Human Caregivers

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Since it plays such a significant role in many people's lives, the ethics around the use of robots as caregivers has become a significant field of research. “Robot interventions in caregiving practices extend the independence as well as lead to human flourishing for individuals at various stages of life,” according to Borenstein and Pearson (p. 287). In the following academic article, I suggest that robots are complementary to human caregivers rather than a substitute for them. I'll use the capabilities approach to illustrate how robot participation in human caregiving contributes to human flourishing by inspiring and expanding individuals' opportunities. Secondly, I will use utilitarianism to show that robot caregiving is replacing human caregiving.

Definition of Key Terms

Capabilities approach.

It is an approach first articulated by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum that requires social institutions to provide a foundation in which central human capabilities can be upheld (Borenstein and Pearson 278). It focuses on freedom that is seen as individual capabilities to do things that a person values rationally.


Capabilities are the opportunities or freedoms that allow an individual to perform a given task


It is an approach to ethics that was developed by John Mill which considers an action to be morally right if it achieves the greatest happiness principle. Therefore, if an action causes pleasure in absence of pain, then it is morally right.


They are robots that are used in human caregiving activities in different stages of life.

Capabilities Approach

Sen and Nussbaum developed the capability approach as an unconventional approach to welfare economics. The traditional approaches to the welfare economics had excluded a range of ideas which Sen incorporated in the capability approach. The core focus in the capability approach is what individuals are capable of doing (Borenstein and Pearson 278). In their economic and political philosophies, Sen and Nussbaum argued the deliberations of justice entailed more than the obtainability and the distribution of resources, utilities along with other external goods. The considerations of justice necessitate attention to the basic capabilities of human beings as well as the functionings. The functionings are the good things in the human life achieved through certain practices and activities. The accomplishment of the capabilities is critical to the burgeoning in human beings (Vallor 252). However, the justice requirements demand that the sole reason for the realization of the capabilities should not be to exploit the overall utility. Although the aim of the conceptualization of the capability approach was to rejoin to the insufficiencies in the other theories of justice, it can play a significant role in helping humans to intellectualize the good life as well as its realization.

Pearson and Borenstein employ the capability approach to evaluating the ethical repercussions of the use of humanoid robots in caregiving. The two philosophers use the approach to clearly indicate that the carebots enable the caregivers to fulfill their moral responsibilities without destroying their capacities for friendship, love, and play. Besides, the capability approach helps in identifying ways in which human beings should not use the carebots (Vallor 253). For example, by means that can divest the caregivers as well as the cared-for the power to control the environment. Coeckelbergh also acknowledges the capability approach as a model for ethical assessment of the carebots. Although he feels that the approach is incapable of evaluating all the moral issues relating to the humanoid robots exhaustively, Coeckelbergh suggests the use of the approach in assessing whether any exercise of caregiving can be eligible for good care.

The capability approach also allows human beings to conceptualize the inner possessions for caregivers in the caring practices which might be lost if people chose to capitulate some or all the caring practices to the carebots. It “would clearly require designing and using robots in a way that expands opportunities for human flourishing for all human beings” (Borenstein and Pearson 279). Nussbaum offers the list of the central capabilities of human beings such as sensation, emotions, integrity, imagination, health, affiliation, emotions and practical reason. Engagement in the caregiving practices is critical in the development of the human capabilities. Pearson and Borenstein prefer the capability approach to the utilitarianism in the use of humanoid robots. The basic idea of utilitarianism is happiness that entails pleasure and nonexistence of pain. The approach demands the consideration of other people's well-being and pleasure, not just one's happiness. Mill says that in life, there is more than just knowledge, pleasure and virtues as other things are equally important. The utilitarian philosophers consider good as anything that brings pleasure and happiness while reducing or eliminating pain. For any action to be good, its outcomes should increase pleasure and reduce pain.

Although some robotics scholars have used utilitarianism, Pearson and Borenstein prefer the capability approach for several reasons. They critique the utilitarian approach for lack of adaptive preferences. The capability approach lays less emphasis on individuals’ happiness and satisfaction (Borenstein and Pearson 278). They also critique the utilitarianism based on the act of consequentialism that entails assessing actions on the basis of the goodness or badness of their outcomes. The act fails to consider the morality of the action. For example, whether the action abides by the principles of individual agency as well as fairness. The utilitarianism would support carebots as long as they bring pleasure and happiness to the cared-for. However, the capability approach argues that achieving the pleasure would override important moral aspects of caretaking. The two philosophers also critique utilitarian aspect of welfarism. The primary concern of the welfarism is the psychological state of the feelings of people about their lives but not the reflective situations of such people. The cared-for may feel satisfied with the services of the humanoid robots although they are deprived of the human company.

Additionally, the capability approach connects to the ethical structure of the interactions between human beings and the humanoid robots. The idea of producing and distributing goods and services in a way that promotes the individual's capability is applicable in the robotic technology since it specifies clear conduits that guide the robot design morphology as well as the structures for the shared autonomy. The capability theory bases its agenda of fairness on a provision of capabilities to individuals to empower them to function (Borenstein and Pearson 280). As compared to utilitarianism, capability approach also offers insights on the suitable methodologies to the evolution between the autonomy of robots and short-term hominoid control as the robots are introduced in more human environments.


The utilitarian approach supports the use of carebots based on the act of consequentialism. The approach places more focus on the consequences of using carebots to help or replace the human caregivers. Utilitarianism advocates on assessing the carebots based on the moral values rather than its capabilities. John Mill argues that “the greatest happiness principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong in proportion as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Jacobson 161). In other words, the utilitarian approach guides human beings to evaluate the humanoid robots based on the role it plays in caregiving and its impact on the network of the involved parties along with the ethical nature of the care practice. The moral elements should be incorporated in the care practice hence the carebots should abide by the moral; values. The meaning along with the prioritization of the moral elements depends on the cared-for as well as the caregivers. The utilitarian approach also states that the carebots should not be endorsed with capabilities that their role does not demand (Jacobson 162). Utilitarianism demands that human beings should establish a system that incorporates the moral, legal as well as social rules that will enable them to live a life full of enjoyments regarding quantity and quality. Moreover, all human beings are entitled to equal claim on the means of attaining happiness. Therefore, the elderly, sick, young, as well as the people living with the disability, are entitled to enjoy happiness just like the people living a normal life. Most people neglect the people with special needs. Hence the carebots comes into care and bring happiness to such people.

My Opinion

The capability approach is more advantageous than utilitarianism. The capability approach aims at realizing global justice with an objective of capturing the ethical traditions. However, the approach fails to incorporate the utilitarian emphasis on happiness and a deontological prerequisite for coherent considerations. The capability approach forms the foundation for the previous evaluations of ethical aspects of the robot care. For instance, the carebots intended for the elderly should extend a variety of capabilities to them. However, when introducing carebots, one should be cautious to ensure that they do not interfere with the social interaction of the elderly. Besides, the carebots should improve the mental states for the cared-for without causing emotional states of reduced self-respect and humiliation. Besides, the capability approach provides a tangible approach to the meaning of living a life commendable of human dignity.


Conclusively, the 21st century provides a platform for the development of carebots as adjuncts to the human caregivers and not a replacement of the human caretakers. Pearson and Borenstein employ the capability approach in evaluating the ethical considerations of the carebots in the care practice. However, the capability approach is not a justification for the use of humanoid robots in caring for the elderly, sick as well as the people living with disabilities. The approach fails to incorporate the utilitarian focus on happiness. Incorporating the carebots into the care practice would deprive the caregivers the opportunity to cultivate values such as empathy and reciprocity. Furthermore, the use of carebots will impoverish the ethical epitome nurtured in the caring relation.

Works Cited

Borenstein, J., & Yvette Pearson. “Robot caregivers: harbingers of expanded freedom for all?.” Ethics and Information Technology, no. 12.3, 2010, pp. 277-288.

Decker, M. “Caregiving robots and ethical reflection: the perspective of interdisciplinary technology assessment.” AI & society, no. 22.3, 2008, pp. 315-330.

Jacobson, D. “Utilitarianism without consequentialism: the case of John Stuart Mill.” Philosophical Review, no. 117.2, 2008, pp. 159-191.

Vallor, S. “Carebots and caregivers: Sustaining the ethical ideal of care in the twenty-first century.” Philosophy & Technology, no. 24.3, 2011, pp. 251-268.

August 09, 2021


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Human Robots Coming of Age

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