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Title: The Ethical Status of Virtual Actions
Author(s): GOOSKENS, Geert
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 17    Issue: 1   Date: 2010   
Pages: 59-78
DOI: 10.2143/EP.17.1.2046957

Abstract :
One of the most interesting features of the computer is its ability to create virtual environments. These environments allow us to interact with objects that are simulated by the computer and are not real. They thus allow us to realize actions that have no repercussions whatsoever on the non-virtual world. This seems to qualify virtual environments as an ideal playground to do all kinds of things that would be labelled ethically wrong if realized in the real world. Nevertheless, we have the feeling that certain types of virtual actions – raping computer simulated girls for example – are not right at all, in spite of the fact that we know that no actual person is harmed by this. In the light of phenomena like virtual rape and violence, philosophical reflection on the ethical status of actions realized in virtual worlds has become inevitable. This paper will provide the groundwork for such a reflection, by answering the following questions: Can we apply the predicates of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to actions realized in virtual worlds? And if this turns out to be problematic, how can we explain our feeling of discomfort with certain types of virtual behaviour, i.e. our feeling that there is something ‘not at all right’ about, for example, virtual rape? These questions will be answered in the three sections of this paper. The first section deals with the necessary condition for the application of the predicates of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to virtual actions: freedom in the virtual environment. In the second section, we will endeavour to demonstrate that the fulfilment of this necessary condition is not sufficient when it comes to the application of these predicates to virtual actions. The last section explains how we can still be uncomfortable with certain virtual actions, even though the said actions escape ethical judgment.

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