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Meta Ethics for the Metaverse: The Ethics of Virtual Worlds

Authors:

Abstract

After a brief introduction that sets out the overall argument of the paper in summary, the second part of the paper will offer a meta-ethical framework based on the moral theory of Alan Gewirth, necessary for determining what, if any, ought to be the ethics that guide the conduct of people participating in virtual worlds in their roles as designers, administrators and players or avatars. As virtual worlds and the World Wide Web generally, are global in scope, reach and use, Gewirth's theory, which offers a supreme principle of morality, the Principle of Generic Consistency (PGC) that establishes universal rights for all persons always and everywhere, is particularly suitable for this task. The paper will show that persons both in the real world and in virtual worlds have rights to freedom and wellbeing. Strictly with regard to agency those rights are merely prima facie but with regard to personhood framed around the notion of self-respect those rights are absolute. The third and final part of the paper will examine in more practical detail and application why and how designers, administrators and avatars of virtual worlds are rationally committed on the basis of their own intrinsic purposive agency to ethical norms of conduct that require the universal respect of the rights of freedom and well-being of all agents, including their own. Using Alan Gewirth's argument for the Principle of Generic Consistency (Reason and Morality, 1978) and my expanded argument for the PGC in my Ethics Within Reason: A Neo-Gewirthian Approach (2006), the paper will specifically seek to demonstrate that insofar as avatars can be viewed as virtual representations or modes of presentations of real people (at least with regard to some virtual worlds in which the virtual agency of the avatar can be considered an extension of the agency of the person instantiating the avatar in the real world) and thus can and must be perceived as virtual purposive agents, then they have moral rights and obligations similar to those of their real counterparts. Finally, the paper will show how the rules of virtual worlds as instantiated by the designers' code and the administrators' end-user license agreement (EULA), must always be consistent with and comply with the requirements of universal morality as established on the basis of the PGC. When the two come into conflict, the PGC, as the supreme principle of morality, is always overriding.
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Meta Ethics for the Metaverse: The Ethics of Virtual Worlds
Edward H. Spence
Abstract
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1. Introduction: the Overall Argument of the Paper in Summary
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2. The Rights of Agents: Alan Gewirth’s Argument for the Principle of Generic
Consistency1
2.1 The Normative Structure of Action (Gewirth, 1978, 48–128)
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!
The Direct Argument
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!
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!
The Argument from Self-Contradiction
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0(2*+4! %,! (//&6%! BcC8! %0&! (4&+%! 5.1%! (//&6%! B\C=! E*+/&! B\C! *1! 3,4*/(337! &G.*2(3&+%! %,! BNC8! %0&!
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/,+%'(-*/%*,+=!U&/(.1&!%0*1!2&'1*,+! ,$!<&9*'%0?1!('4.5&+%!6',2*-&1!$.'%0&'!&3./*-(%*,+!,$!%0&!
6'&2*,.1!%9,!2&'1*,+18!R!10(33!*+/3.-&!*%!0&'&!$,'!(--*%*,+(3!/3('*$*/(%*,+! ,$! %0&! ;&7!5,2&1! *+!
%0,1&!('4.5&+%1=! O,'! '&$&'&+%*(3! /,+2&+*&+/&8!R!10(33! 3()&3! %0*1! %0*'-!('4.5&+%! %0&! argument
from generic consistency8!(3%0,.40!%0*1!*1!+,%!0,9!<&9*'%0!0*51&3$!'&$&'1!%,!*%=!
!
The Argument from Generic Consistency
E*+/&! $'&&-,5! (+-! 9&33)&*+4! ('&! %0&! +&/&11('7! /,+-*%*,+1! ,$! (/%*,+! B%0&! /,+/3.1*,+! ,$! %0&!
('4.5&+%! *+! 1%(4&! RC8! +,! (4&+%! /(+! (/%! %,! $.3$*33! (+7! ,$! 0*1! 6.'6,1&1! 9*%0,.%! 0(2*+4! %0&1&!
/,+-*%*,+1=!R%!$,33,918! %0&'&$,'&8!%0(%!&2&'7!(4&+%!0(1! %,!(//&6%8!$',5!9*%0*+!0*1! ,9+!*+%&'+(3!
1%(+-6,*+%8! B"C! SR! 5.1%! 0(2&! $'&&-,5! (+-! 9&33)&*+4T8! 90&'&! %0&! S5.1%T! .1&-! 0&'&! *1! 90(%!
<&9*'%0! '&$&'1! %,! (1! (! 6'(/%*/(3:6'&1/'*6%*2&! S5.1%T8! $,'! *%! 1*4+*$*&1! %0&! (4&+%?1! *563*&-!
advocacy!,$!0(2*+4!90(%!0&!+&&-1!*+!,'-&'!%,!(/%=!U7!(//&6%*+4!B"C!0&!(31,!0(1!%,!(//&6%!BLC!SR!
0(2&!'*40%1!%,!$'&&-,5!(+-!9&33)&*+4=T!O,'!*$!0&!-&+*&1!BLC!)&/(.1&!,$!%0&!3,4*/(3!/,''&3(%*2*%7!
,$! '*40%:/3(*51! B16&/*$*/(3378! %0&! 4&+&'*/! '*40%1C! (+-! 1%'*/%! S,.40%1T8! 0&! (31,! 0(1! %,! -&+7! BWC!
S#33!,%0&'!6&'1,+1!,.40%!(%!3&(1%!%,!'&$'(*+!$',5!*+%&'$&'*+4!9*%0!57!$'&&-,5!(+-!9&33)&*+4T8!
(+-! )7! -&+7*+4! BWC! 0&! 0(1! %,! (//&6%! BcC! Sg%0&'! 6&'1,+1! 5(7! BR%! *1! 6&'5*11*)3&! %0(%! ,%0&'!
6&'1,+1C!*+%&'$&'&!9*%0!57!$'&&-,5!(+-!9&33)&*+4=T!U7!(//&6%*+4!BcC8!0&!0(1!(31,!%,!(//&6%!B\C!
SR!5(7!+,%!BR%!*1!6&'5*11*)3&!%0(%!R!+,%C!0(2&!$'&&-,5!(+-!9&33)&*+4=T!U.%!B\C!/,+%'(-*/%1!B"C=!
E*+/&8! 0,9&2&'8! &2&'7! (4&+%8! *+! 2*'%.&! ,$! )&*+4! (+! (4&+%! 90,! 0(1! 6.'6,1&1! 0&! 9(+%1! %,!
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(4&+%! 5.1%! '&^&/%! %0(%! -&+*(3! (+-! 1,! 0&! 5.1%! (//&6%! BLC! SR! 0(2&! '*40%1! %,! $'&&-,5! (+-!
9&33)&*+4=T!
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@<A!6.'6,'%!%,!10,9!%0(%!$',5!(+7!(4&+%?1!1%(+-6,*+%8!%0&!+&/&11*%7!,$!0(2*+4!$'&&-,5!(+-!
9&33)&*+4! &+%(*31! %0&! +&/&11*%7! ,$! +,+*+%&'$&'&+/&! )7! ,%0&'! 6&'1,+1! ,$! 0*1! 0(2*+4! %0,1&!
/,+-*%*,+1=! D0*1! +&/&11*%7! *+! %.'+! &+%(*31! (%! 3&(1%! (! 1%'*/%! instrumental! S,.40%T! (--'&11&-!
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/,+-*%*,+1!,$!$'&&-,5!(+-!9&33)&*+4=!O.'%0&'5,'&8!(+7!(4&+%!90,!-,&1!+,%!(//&6%!%0(%!0&!0(1!
%0&1&!'*40%1! *+2,32&1! 0*51&3$!*+!1&3$:/,+%'(-*/%*,+8!1*+/&!0&! 0,3-1!%0(%!0&!+&&-! +,%!0(2&!90(%!
(1!(+!(4&+%!0&!+&/&11('*37!+&&-18!+(5&378!$'&&-,5!(+-!9&33)&*+4!B"IJK8!K"C=!
!
D0*1!/,563&%&1!%0&!&F6,1*%*,+!,$!1%(4&!RR!,$!<&9*'%0?1!('4.5&+%!$,'!%0&!@<A=!`,9&2&'!)&$,'&!
9&! 6',/&&-! %,! 3,,;! (%! 0*1! ('4.5&+%! $,'! 1%(4&! RRR8! 9&! +&&-! %,! $*'1%! &F(5*+&! <&9*'%0?1!
&F63(+(%*,+1!(+-!&3./*-(%*,+1!,$!1,5&!,$!%0&!;&7!%&'51!(+-!/,56,+&+%1!*+!0*1!('4.5&+%!$,'!
1%(4&!RR=!
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Rights and Obligations
#//,'-*+4! %,! <&9*'%08! %0&'&! *1! (! /,+/&6%.(3! /,++&/%*,+! )&%9&&+! '*40%1! (+-! %0&! +&/&11('7!
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*+%&'+(3! 2*&96,*+%8! (+! &+%*%3&5&+%\! %,! %0,1&! /,+-*%*,+1=! O.'%0&'5,'&8! *+! 2*'%.&! ,$! %0*1!
+&/&11*%78!&2&'7!(4&+%!$&&31! &+%*%3&-!%,!'&G.*'&!,%0&'!6&'1,+1!+,%!%,!*+%&'$&'&!9*%0!0*1!$'&&-,5!
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$'&&-,5!(+-!9&33)&*+4Tf*1!3,4*/(337!/,''&3(%&-!%,!%0&!'*40%:/3(*51!6&'%(*+*+4!%,!$'&&-,5!(+-!
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$'&&-,5!(+-!9&33)&*+48!(+-!%0(%!,%0&'1!,.40%!+,%!%,!*+%&'$&'&!9*%0!0*1!0(2*+4!%0,1&!/,+-*%*,+1=!
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2.5 A Summarized Outline of Gewirth’s Argument for the PGC
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3. The Absolute Right to Personal Dignity
3.1 The Concept of Self-Respect
A Case Study
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3.2 Self-respect as a Primary Good: A Question of Life and Death
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!
3.3 A Reconstruction of Gewirth’s Argument for the PGC!
!
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!
3.4 The Concept of Absolute Rights!
!
Gewirth’s Notion of Absolute Rights
!
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!
a right is absolute when it cannot be overridden in any circumstances, so that it can
never be justifiably infringed and it must be fulfilled without any exceptions.
The idea of an absolute right is thus double normative [emphasis added]; it includes
not only the idea, common to all claim-rights, of a justified claim or entitlement to the
performance or non-performance of certain actions, but also the idea of the
exceptionless justifiability [emphasis added] of performing or not performing those
actions as required.!B<&9*'%0!"IKL8!L"ICK!
!
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!
3.5. The Agent’s Double Standpoint!
!
My Reconstruction of Gewirth’s Argument is Kantian in Spirit
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persons=!
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3.6 The Dignity-Conferring Value of Rights!
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to be a person=!O,'!(1!R!%'*&-!%,!10,9!(),2&8!*%!*1!-*$$*/.3%!%,!1&&!0,9!(+!(4&+%8!90,!0(1!3,1%!(33!
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!
5. The Significance and Consequences of Gewirth’s Principle of Generic Consistency for
the Ethics of Virtual Worlds
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!
5.1 The Rights of Virtual Agents
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-*$$&'&+/&8!*+!6'*+/*63&!(%!3&(1%8!90&%0&'!%0&!6.'6,1*2&!(4&+/7!*1!%0(%!,$!'&(3!6&'1,+1!,'!%0(%!,$!
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/0,,1&!,+!%0&!)(1*1!,$!%0&*'!'*40%!%,!$'&&!(11,/*(%*,+!(+-!%0&!'*40%!%,!$'&&-,5!%,!63(7!$,'!%0&*'!
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5.2 The Conflict of Rights
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+(5&378!$'&&-,5!(+-!9&33)&*+48!('&!5,'&!+&/&11('7!$,'!6.'6,1*2&!(/%*,+!$,'!(4&+%!#!%0(+!
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/,+1&G.&+/&!*1!%,!'&-./&!%0&!3&4*%*5(%&37!&('+&-!1%(%.1!,$!(+!(2(%('!%0(%!5(7!0(2&!%(;&+!%0&5!
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&F*1%*+4!$*+(+/*(3!1%(%.1!,$!%0&!a>!6',2*-&1!1.$$*/*&+%!$.+-1!(+-!6',$*%1!%,!5(*+%(*+!%0&!a>!(%!
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X]#!6'*+/*63&!(+-!(33!%0*+41!)&*+4!&G.(38!%0&!6'*+/*63&!1&&51!%,!1.44&1%!%0(%!*+!1./0!(!
/,+$3*/%!)&%9&&+!%0&!5,'(3!'*40%1!,$!%0&!(2(%('!(+-!%0&!5,'(3!'*40%1!,$!%0&!(-5*+*1%'(%,'8!%0&!
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!
5.3 Virtual Role Morality and Universal Public Morality
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()1,3.%&!'*40%1!%,!$'&&-,5!(+-!9&33)&*+4!%0(%!(33!(2(%('1!0(2&!9*%0!'&16&/%!%,!%0&*'!-*4+*%7!(1!
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.+*2&'1(3!(+-!$,.+-(%*,+(38!)&*+4!)(1&-!,+!%0&!@<A!(1!%0&!1.6'&5&!6'*+/*63&!,$!5,'(3*%78!9*33!
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5.4 Virtual Rights are Universal Rights
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!LK
Notes
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Chapter
Metaverse combines the virtual and physical, synthesizing the internet, the web, and extended reality into a world where digital and physical elements blend in differing degrees. The core purpose of the metaverse is social connection. This consists of users coexisting in an ecosystem that includes cultures, laws, economies, societies, and related obligations. Therefore, it will demand standards of how humans should behave and what is considered right and wrong. Ethics is based on these standards within any given universe. The ethical challenges faced in developing and deploying a metaverse are explored, and ethical design considerations of metaverse environments are defined. The metaverse ecosystem is described and critical technologies that support it are included. Examples of current metaverses are provided so that the reader can explore and experience a metaverse and further assess the ethics and benefits.
Article
"Most modern philosophers attempt to solve the problem of morality from within the epistemological assumptions that define the dominant cultural perspective of our age. Alan Gewirth's Reason and Morality is a major work in this ongoing enterprise. Gewirth develops, with patience and skill, what he calls a 'modified naturalism' in which morality is derived by logic alone from the concept of action. . . . I think that the publication of Reason and Morality is a major event in the history of moral philosophy. It develops with great power a new and exciting position in ethical naturalism. No one, regardless of philosophical stance, can read this work without an enlargement of mind. It illuminates morality and agency for all."—E. M. Adams, The Review of Metaphysics "This is a fascinating study of an apparently intractable problem. Gewirth has provided plenty of material for further discussion, and his theory deserves serious consideration. He is always aware of possible rejoinders and argues in a rigorous manner, showing a firm grasp of the current state of moral and political philosophy."—Mind
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