Conversation from Beyond the Grave? A Neo‐Confucian Ethics of Chatbots of the Dead

Journal of Applied Philosophy 37 (1):73-88 (2020)
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Digital records, from chat transcripts to social media posts, are being used to create chatbots that recreate the conversational style of deceased individuals. Some maintain that this is merely a new form of digital memorial, while others argue that they pose a variety of moral hazards. To resolve this, I turn to classical Chinese philosophy to make use of a debate over the ethics of funerals and mourning. This ancient argument includes much of interest for the contemporary issue at hand, including the use of impersonators of the dead to help the bereaved to deal well with their grief. I connect this historical discussion with a modern trend in clinical psychology that reframes therapeutic interventions with bereaved individuals. The trend directs practitioners away from facilitating detachment and toward affirming continuing bonds. I conclude that these chatbots can offer an important source of support to mourners, but also discuss parameters and features of social context that will be important to avoid the moral hazards identified by sceptics.


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Alexis Elder
University of Minnesota, Duluth

References found in this work

Real (and) Imaginal Relationships with the Dead.Kathryn J. Norlock - 2017 - Journal of Value Inquiry 51 (2):341-356.
Information Privacy and Social Self-Authorship.Daniel Susser - 2016 - Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology 20 (3):216-239.
The meaning of detachment in Daoism, Buddhism, and Stoicism.David B. Wong - 2006 - Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 5 (2):207-219.
Death, Self, and Oneness in the Incomprehensible Zhuangzi.Eric Schwitzgebel - 2017 - In Philip J. Ivanhoe, Owen Flanagan, Victoria S. Harrison, Hagop Sarkissian & Eric Schwitzgebel (eds.), The Oneness Hypothesis: Beyond the Boundary of Self. New York, NY, USA: Columbia University Press.
Zhuangzi on Friendship and Death.Alexis Elder - 2014 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 52 (4):575-592.

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