Drones, Morality, and Vulnerability: Two Arguments Against Automated Killing




Journal Title

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


T.M.C. Asser Press


Book chapter

Peer reviewed



This chapter articulates and discusses several arguments against the lethal use of unmanned aerial vehicles, often called drones. A distinction is made between targeted killing, killing at a distance, and automated killing, which is used to map the arguments against lethal drones. After considering issues concerning the justification of war, the argument that targeted killing makes it easier to start a war, and the argument that killing at a distance is problematic, this chapter focuses on two arguments against automated killing, which are relevant to all kinds of “machine killing”. The first argument (from moral agency) questions if machines can ever be moral agents and is based on differences in capacities for moral decision-making between humans and machines. The second argument (from moral patiency), which has received far less attention in the literature on machine ethics and ethics of drones, focuses on the question if machines can ever be “moral patients”. It is argued that there is a morally significant qualitative difference in vulnerability and way of being between drones and humans, and that because of this asymmetry fully automated killing without or with little human involvement is not justified.



Automated killing, Moral agency, Moral patients, Vulnerability


Coeckelbergh, M. (2016) Drones, Morality, and Vulnerability: Two Arguments Against Automated Killing. In: B. Custers, ed., The Future of Drone Use: Technologies, Opportunities and Privacy Issues, 1st ed. n.l.: T.M.C. Asser Press, pp. 229-237


Research Institute

Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility (CCSR)