Artefacts, agency and action schemes

C.F.R. Illies, A.W.M. Meijers

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Artefacts affect users in many ways. In this paper we develop an account of the moral status and relevance of artefacts. We argue in favour of an active role for artefacts, without introducing radically new moral agency concepts. We develop a tool for the ethical evaluation of artefacts: the ‘action scheme’. An action scheme is the repertoire of possible actions available to an agent or group of agents in a given situation. Each of these options has a certain degree of attractiveness. There are many influences on an agent’s action scheme – we distinguish between physical, intentional, and social contexts. When artefacts are introduced, they alter an agent’s action scheme; new options become available, and some are made more, some less, attractive. Our tool allows designers to analyse and evaluate the effects of artefacts on users in a systematic way; it can show them in what ways artefacts can influence what agents are likely to do. The agent remains, of course, responsible for what he or she does. But the designer (and others involved in the creation of artefacts) has what we call a ‘second-order responsibility’ for changes in the user’s action scheme. We argue that the action scheme and the related concept of second-order-responsibility are two conceptual tools which enable us to look at artefacts in a way more promising than alternative ethical accounts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Moral Status of Technical Artefacts
EditorsP. Kroes, P.-P. Verbeek
Place of PublicationDordrecht
ISBN (Print)978-94-007-7914-3
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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