Ethics and Morality

Freshman (College 1st year) ・Literature ・MLA ・5 Sources

The Struggle between Right and Wrong

The struggle to determine what is wrong and right is a situation that people face all the time when the universe is full of choices and judgments that the human mind must make. The decisions between right and wrong are the determinants of a human being's moral constructs, and based on the choices made, one will decide if it is morally permissible or unacceptable. According to Cottone and Tarvydas, ethics is a guide for human action that establishes a norm or guideline that, when practiced, does not create conflict with other humans (394).

Morality and Ethics in I, Robot

In I, Robot, the issue of morality and ethics is dissected throughout the story trying to demonstrate the robots' capability to be guided by these principles that are also crucial guiding factors of the human race. The robots in the story are shown to be capable of understanding what it means to have moral behavior and ethics in their life as they carry about their various activities that they were designed for. This essay intends to analyze morality and ethics that goes around the story both in the interactions between the human beings and the robots. This is to give us the understanding of how the author portrays morality and ethics in the stories and relate the findings to the real life indulgence on the same topic. The definition of morality and ethics has several meanings and understanding depending on the level of its interpretation, which can cause conflict most of the time.

The Interaction between Humans and Robots

I, Robot, is a story that dwells on the interactions between the human population and robots in the world in a scenario portrayed that these two entities exist in unison and live together in a common area. Both robots and the humans exist in an equal set-up where they carry out their daily activities together each unique to their level of expertise. The robots mostly were built to aid the people in their various areas of need as well as seamlessly integrate with the human ways of living without undermining the human lives. The robot such as Speedy is able to take instructions and is sent to get some selenium by Donovan (Asimov 25). The robots are guided by a set of laws that they are wired at all time to abide by. These set of laws are designed to protect human beings from the robots which design-wise are superior in strength compared to the human beings as well as aid the robots in making logic thoughts that are in the best interest of the human beings.

The Three Laws of Robotics

The Three Laws are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first and second laws (Asimov 26).

The Question of Robots' Judgment

However, with time, there was a question on the robots' ability to make judgments that are in the best interest of the humans due to some loopholes that are in the laws that they are to follow strictly at all time. The robots are perceived that they will one day become a threat to human existence since they would pose a serious threat to the humans in the event that they violate the laws that guide them. Robot Cutie shows the signs of rebellion as it questions its existence to Powell, arguing that his hypothesis needed a reason behind it (Asimov 33).

The Role of Morality and Ethics in Robot Functionality

In the story, the author gives more thought to the need of morality and ethics in guiding a population in the society. The best demonstration is the creation of the three laws of robotics that guide the operation of the robots and also are used as a safety measure to protect human beings from being harmed by robots. The story tells of the reservations in some about the use of robots as assistants and their constant interactions with the human beings, while some view robots as helpful aids that are quite helpful and important in their lives due to the amount of help they are able to garner from these machines. Powell clearly explains that the robots were developed to replace human labor and have some areas of work with just robots and no humans (Asimov 31). The robots are supposed to follow the Three Laws at all time and it shows the involvement of ethics and morality in their function. According to the Three laws, robots are supposed to help the human beings but at no time are they allowed to harm them. Guided by these Three laws, the robots are following a set of commands that they are morally right if they adhere to them and wrong if they disobey the laws. It is also a demonstration of ethics since given that the robots are aware of the laws that govern their function, it is ethically correct if they stick to obeying the laws and wrong if they disobey the set laws.

The Interpretation of Wrong and Right

The challenges that lie with the interpretation of wrong and right are among the leading factors of conflict in moral and ethical decision-making (Lemons and Brown 202). Depending on how the robots interpret the laws is the guiding principle if they are able to maintain their moral and ethical code of conduct in their interactions with human beings. Early in the story, the obedience of the Three Laws demonstrates the ability of robots to act ethically by following the laws set that they are expected to as per their creation. The robots are to assist and not harm the human beings at all times and they perform exceptionally well putting the interests of the humans on top priority at all times. Robbie acts in the best interests of Gloria in the story, despite not being able to speak, it obeys and acts as Gloria instructs it (Asimov 8). Later on, as the story develops, a conflict arises due to the robots' interpretation of the Three Laws that guide them and it leads to doubts about their ability to not harm humans. Tension exists within some humans as they fear that given some certain circumstances, the robots may actually harm them despite the Three laws being elucidated in the best possible way. What the human being questions is the ethical comprehension of the robots that exist alongside them, which triggers question marks among some humans. If the robots violated any of the Three laws, it would lead to humans being harmed which are against the moral code of the robots' design. Mrs. Weston is among the people that have reservations about the use of robots since she believes that one day something will go wrong (Asimov 9).

The Role of Humans in Determining Morality and Ethics

Humans are also involved in the fight between understanding morality and ethics in their daily lives (Mattingly 315). Given that the humans have the choice to determine the definition of these words, they also come to a conflict with the different interpretations and understanding that they can be able to give. In the story, the human beings are considered the judge of morality and ethics in their society. Dr. Susan Calvin confronts Herbie a robot with an 'insoluble dilemma' to test the robot on its decision-making, however, it fails and breaks down, thus, ordering it to be disassembled (Asimov 70). However, it comes with difficulties since it is a challenge to determine what the proper cause of action in some of the scenarios presented to the human being is. Wallach argues that understanding morality and ethics is the determinant of who is superior between the robots and the human beings (247). Since the human being is considered far superior intellectually compared to the robots in the story, they are the ones with the power and control over the robots. Cutie, a robot agrees that there is a superior being who creates the parts referred to as 'The Master' who made the robots and they can only answer to the Master (44). The robots are to obey the humans at all times and at no one point should they harm the human being. According to the human beings, it is unethical for the robots to violate the Three Laws and harming them would compromise the morals of the robots within which they were designed.

The Comparison between Human and Robot Morality

The case of operating within the moral limits of the robots' design can further raise the argument if the robots as they obey every command from the human beings are more moral than the humans. Robots cannot harm humans according to the authors, but humans have been known to harm each other in various ways. Humans understand morality and ethical practices as well as have the comprehension of what is wrong and right, that makes them far superior to the robots (Wallach). Nonetheless, human nature sometimes betrays the intellectual capacity they hold in understanding that some of their actions may cause harm to the other human but still proceed to perform the undesirable actions. Immoral and unethical practices are constantly performed in the society by human beings despite their knowledge of right and wrong, what to do and what not to do as well as the understanding of the consequences of their actions. According to Dr. Susan Calvin, machines that are designed to function within the limits of the human being's instructions and the human's determination of how the robots should act or behave (Asimov 52). This demonstrates the power and superiority of the human being over the robots which are supposed to serve the needs of the human being.


In conclusion, in I, Robot, the concept of morality and ethics revolves around acting correctly without giving thought, belief or feeling to the actions that need to be done as long as it is termed as the correct course of action and good by the human beings. This is a gray area in the story since humans are able to decide for themselves between what is wrong or right inclusive of their thoughts, emotion, and feelings towards the subject in front of them. It is believed that robots should not be given the same freedom as human beings as in such a case they would harm the human beings and such are the fears that are shared by some humans in the story. Therefore, morality and ethics to exist in a society should be purely about acting in a manner that is deemed correct without the involvement of any other underlying factors for it to be considered successful. Morality and ethics should have an underlying rule or law; that it does not matter what the thought, emotion or belief is held by a person, as long as the actions they perform are worthy of being described as the correct course of action. Indeed, morality and ethics are a guide to civil living in the society given their abstract concept but are without doubt a concrete part of living in the world.

Work Cited

Asimov, Isaac. I, Robot (vol. 1). Spectra, 2004.
Cottone, Robert R., and Vilia M. Tarvydas. Counseling Ethics and Decision Making. Pearson, 2007.
Lemons, John, and Donald A. Brown, eds. Sustainable Development: Science, Ethics, and Public Policy. vol. 3. Springer Science & Business Media, 2013.
Mattingly, Cheryl. "Moral Selves and Moral Scenes: Narrative Experiments in Everyday Life." Ethnos, vol. 78, no. 3, 2013, pp. 301-327.
Wallach, Wendell. "Robot Minds and Human Ethics: The Need for a Comprehensive Model of Moral Decision Making." Ethics and Information Technology, vol. 12, no. 3, 2010, pp. 243-250.

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