For Work / Against Work
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"Robots and the Possibility of Humanistic Care"

by Coghlan, Simon (2021)


Care robots are likely to perform increasingly sophisticated caring activities that some will consider comforting and valuable. They will get increasingly humanlike and lifelike. This paper addresses the conceptual question: Even if robots can assist and ease people's suffering, can such machines provide humanistic care? Arguably, humanistic care is the most humanly distinctive and deepest form of care there is. As such, it may be thought to show most starkly the gulf between human and robot caregiving. The paper argues that humanistic caregiving is indeed a distinctive form of 'affective' care dependent on certain uniquely human characteristics or aspects of our humanity which can provide a profound kind of comfort to suffering people. It then argues that there is an important conceptual sense in which robots cannot provide humanistic care. Nonetheless, the paper subsequently suggests that we may recognize a useful sense in which robots, of a suitably anthropomorphic type, can provide humanistic care. Robots might 'express' to people with physical, social, or emotional needs the kind of humanistic care that only human beings can provide but that sufferers can nonetheless receive comfort from precisely because of what is expressed to them. Although this sense of humanistic robot care is derivative from uniquely human care, and although it is wide open to social and ethical criticism, it is nonetheless an idea worth clarifying for anyone interested in the possibilities and limits of robot care.


Aged Care, Anthropomorphism., Care Robots, Ethics, Health Care, Humanistic Care


AI and Healthcare, Automation

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