Moral Distance, AI, and the Ethics of Care

AI & Society

Posted: 10 Jan 2022 Last revised: 24 Mar 2023

See all articles by Carolina Villegas-Galaviz

Carolina Villegas-Galaviz

Comillas Pontificial University ; University of Notre Dame

Kirsten Martin

University of Notre Dame

Date Written: January 16, 2022


This paper investigates how the introduction of AI to decision making increases moral distance and recommends the ethics of care to augment the ethical examination of AI decision making. With AI decision-making, face-to-face interactions are minimized, and decisions are part of a more opaque process that humans do not always understand. Within decision-making research, the concept of moral distance is used to explain why individuals behave unethically towards those who are not seen. Moral distance abstracts those who are impacted by the decision and leads to less ethical decisions. The goal of this paper is to identify and analyze the moral distance created by AI through both proximity distance (in space, time, and culture) and bureaucratic distance (derived from hierarchy, complex processes, and principlism). We then propose the ethics of care as a moral framework to analyze the moral implications of AI. The ethics of care brings to the forefront circumstances and context, interdependence, and vulnerability in analyzing algorithmic decision-making.

Keywords: AI, moral distancing, ethics of care

Suggested Citation

Villegas-Galaviz, Carolina and Martin, Kirsten, Moral Distance, AI, and the Ethics of Care (January 16, 2022). AI & Society, Available at SSRN: or

Carolina Villegas-Galaviz

Comillas Pontificial University ( email )

Alberto Aguilera 21
Madrid, Madrid 28015

University of Notre Dame ( email )

361 Mendoza College of Business
Notre Dame, IN 46556-5646
United States

Kirsten Martin (Contact Author)

University of Notre Dame ( email )

364 Mendoza
South Bend, IN 46530
United States

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