Articles  |    |  November 20, 2019

Rituals and Machines: A Confucian Response to Technology-Driven Moral Deskilling

Peer-reviewed article by Pak-Hang Wong.
Published in Philosophies.


Robots and other smart machines are increasingly interwoven into the social fabric of our society, with the area and scope of their application continuing to expand. As we become accustomed to interacting through and with robots, we also begin to supplement or replace existing human–human interactions with human–machine interactions. This article aims to discuss the impacts of the shift from human–human interactions to human–machine interactions in one facet of our self-constitution, i.e., morality. More specifically, it sets out to explore whether and how the shift to human–machine interactions can affect our moral cultivation. I shall structure the article around what Shannon Vallor calls technology-driven moral deskilling, i.e., the phenomenon of technology negatively affecting individual moral cultivation, and shall also attempt to offer a Confucian response to the problem. I first elaborate in detail Vallor’s idea of technology-driven moral deskilling. Next, I discuss three paradigms of virtue acquisition identified by Nancy E. Snow, i.e., the “folk” paradigm, the skill-and-expertise paradigm, and the Confucian paradigm, and show how the Confucian paradigm can help us to respond to technology-driven moral deskilling. Finally, I introduce the idea of Confucian rituals (li) and argue for the ritualizing of machines as an answer to technology-driven moral deskilling.