The Ethical Life of the Object

morality   |   ethics   |   objects   |   technology   |   design   |   interaction
Years of Activity: 2018

Research Status:


Nea Ehrlich, Yael Eylat Van-Essen, Eyal Fried, Galit Gaon, Rachel Getz Salomon, Morel Ikonikov, Ayelet Karmon, Hagit Kuriel, Dori Oryan, Sharon Paz, Michal Rapoport, Ravid Rovner, Lee Rozman Papier, Noga Shimshon, Talia Tokatly, Maya Vinitsky, Yonatan Ward, Galit Wellner

Technological developments of the recent decades, and the complex technological objects created using them, have challenged the conceptual distinction between objects and humans. Robots and autonomous cars deviate from the definition of the object as “constant” and “stationary”; manufacturers invest great effort in designing the behavior of objects, making them “smart” and giving them a “personality”; users are required to develop “inter-personal” communication with artificial intelligence systems such as Siri, to depend on the functioning of the autonomous car, or to ascribe actuality to virtual objects.

This revolution in the design and use of objects requires a reexamination of the existing theoretical, ethical, and social attitudes toward objects. It is possible that the blurring of the boundaries of the objects makes it necessary for the first time in the modern era to discuss ethical issues that go beyond inter-personal relations and touch on relations with objects.

To what extent can the new relationships between people and objects be shaped based on existing modern ethical standards? And to what extent is this the creation of a new, secularized kind of relationship (as opposed to that with religious articles) that is no longer anthropocentric? What is the nature of the activity of designers of smart objects, in the reproduction of existing social relations or in the creation of a new order? How do the reciprocal relations between morality and technology allow the inclusion of more and more things in the tradable world as “objects”? More generally, does the blurring of the boundaries between human beings and objects create situations (such as remote service) of a “hybrid ethics,” both with regard to smart objects and to human beings?


Group activity

The Ethical Life of the Object research group holds monthly meetings and explores the various fields in which the ethics of objects is manifested. Among the questions that arise in the group are:

  • Do the new objects become integrated in the social order or do they threaten its existence?
  • Does digitization change our understanding of the concreteness of objects? Does it affect the relation to them and the nature of ownership of them?
  • What is the role of the design of objects and the design of the interfaces with them in the formulation of an ethics of objects?