DILEMA Lecture by Sven Nyholm

Published 20 October 2022

On Thursday 17 November 2022, Dr Sven Nyholm (Utrecht University) will deliver a DILEMA Lecture on the topic of ‘The Ethics of Human–Robot Interaction and Traditional Moral Theories’. The lecture will be followed by a Q&A moderated by Dr Sadjad Soltanzadeh, (Asser Institute).

Click here to register for this event. The lecture will take place in-person at the Asser Institute, with remote attendance available.


The rapid introduction of different kinds of robots and other machines with artificial intelligence (AI) into different domains of life raises the question of whether robots can be moral agents and moral patients. In other words, can robots perform moral actions? Can robots be on the receiving end of moral actions? To explore these questions, Sven Nyholm relates the new area of the ethics of human–robot interaction to traditional ethical theories such as utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, and virtue ethics. These theories were developed with the assumption that the paradigmatic examples of moral agents and moral patients are human beings. As Nyholm argues, this creates challenges for anybody who wishes to extend the traditional ethical theories to new questions of whether robots can be moral agents and/or moral patients.

Read more: Sven Nyholm, ‘The Ethics of Human–Robot Interaction and Traditional Moral Theories’, in Carissa Véliz (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Digital Ethics (2021).

About the speaker

Dr Sven Nyholm is an Associate Professor at the Ethics Institute of Utrecht University. His main areas of research are applied ethics (especially the ethics of technology), ethical theory, and the history of ethics. Nyholm’s research covers a wide range of topics in ethics, including well-being and meaning in life, the philosophy of love and sex, agency and moral responsibility, the concept of the self, and the ethics of human-robot interaction. Within the philosophy of technology, Nyholm has written on topics such as the ethics of self-driving cars, humanoid robots, autonomous weapons systems, deep brain stimulation, human enhancement, and self-tracking technologies.


16:45–17:00         Arrival and registration

17:00–17:05         Introductory remarks - Dr Berenice Boutin, Senior Researcher in International Law, DILEMA Project Leader (Asser Institute)

17:05–17:45         The Ethics of Human–Robot Interaction and Traditional Moral TheoriesDr Sven Nyholm, Associate Professor of Philosophy (Utrecht University)

17:45–18:00         Q&A moderated by Dr Sadjad Soltanzadeh, Postdoctoral Researcher in Ethics and Philosophy of Technology, DILEMA Project (Asser Institute)

About the DILEMA Lecture Series

The DILEMA Lecture Series regularly invites academics and other experts working on issues related to the project to present their work and share reflections with a general audience comprising researchers, students, and professionals. Topics of interest within the scope of this lecture series include technical perspectives on military applications of AI, philosophical enquires into human control and human agency over technologies, analyses of international law in relation to (military) AI, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and interdisciplinary contributions related to these topics.