Dr. Claire Benn

Areas of specialization:

Ethics (normative and applied); Philosophy of Technology

Areas of competence:

Political Philosophy; Aesthetics; Introductory Philosophical and Formal Logic


Personal website

I received my PhD in July 2014 from the University of Cambridge. I received my MPhil in 2010 and my BA in 2009 also from the University of Cambridge. My main areas of research are ethics,  both normative and applied, and the philosophy of technology.

In normative ethics, I work primarily on supererogation. Supererogatory actions are those that go above and beyond the call of duty. In my work on supererogation, I examine both the conditions that an act must meet to be counted as supererogatory as well as the value of including this class of normative action in our ethical theories. Often overlooked in the traditional ethical discussions of liars, murderers, promise-breakers and thieves, I focus on the wonderfully positive side of our moral lives and encourage us all to take more seriously those modest gift-givers, blood-donors, saints and heroes who similarly populate our moral world.

My current project is in applied ethics and the philosophy of technology, focusing on the ethics of virtual objects, images and worlds. My research demonstrates that the ethical problems raised by these technologies require more than the simple application of our traditional ethics, demanding  the creation of new principles to govern behavior or even changes to our conceptual framework. Take new technology of creating virtual images. These have have allowed for the production of virtual child pornography: images that are visually indistinguishable from photographic child pornography and yet do not involve the sexual abuse of any child to create. As such the traditional reason for the prohibition of child pornography—the sexual abuse of depicted children—appears not to apply. My work tackles this head on and provides a technically informed analysis of the creation of such images. For example, in ‘What is Wrong with Doctored Child Pornography’ (under review), I propose a consent-based argument that explains how certain kinds of virtual child pornography wrong individual children, even in the absence of sexual abuse. My article ‘Child Pornography in the Digital Age: A Conceptual Muddle’ forthcoming in Pornography: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, (Peter Lang, 2018) reveals the power of technological change to demand conceptual change. I demonstrate how the age of digital photography has radically changed the very nature of what it is to be an image; how our current inability to identify the genesis of an image can alter whether an image is of a child; and, drawing on Michael Rea’s definition of pornography, how new forms of information, such as metadata, can recontextualise images as child pornography. I have also work in progress addressing the possibility of using virtual reality experiences to enhance us morally and on realism and sense of self in virtual worlds.

Continuing my work in the ethics and philosophy of technology, in my next project I plan to tackle the ethics of robotic entities and artificial intelligences. My research will address three core issues: (1) the development of ethical codes for artificial agents; (2) the normative considerations of human-robot interactions (HRI); and (3) the effect of these technologies on our core values, such as trust, care, and respect. I have a paper in progress exploring these themes and mapping the terrain. I am currently drafting an outline of the book that will be the culmination of this project: Robot Relationships: A Guide to Getting Along After the Fourth Revolution.




‘Intentions, Motives and Supererogation’, Forthcoming in The Journal of Value Inquiry(2018)

‘Child Pornography in the Digital Age: A Conceptual Muddle’, Forthcoming in Pornography: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, (Peter Lang, 2018), ed. Frank Jacobs

 ‘The Enemy of the Good: Supererogation and Requiring Perfection’, Utilitas(2018) Volume 30, Issue 3, pp333-354

 ‘Supererogation, Optionality, and Cost’, Philosophical Studies(2017), pp1-19

‘Supererogatory Spandrels’, Etica & Politica/Ethics & Politics(2017) Volume 19, Issue 1, pp269-290, special volume on Supererogation, ed. Simone Grigoletto

 ‘Over-Demandingness Objections and Supererogation’, Published in The Limits of Moral Obligation: Moral Demandingness and Ought Implies Can, ed. Marcel van Ackeren and Michael Kühler, (Routledge, 2016).

 ‘What is Wrong with Promising to Supererogate’ , Philosophia(March 2014) Volume 42, Issue 1, pp55-61

‘Psychological Perfectionism and the Paradox of Obligation’, CAPE Studies in Applied Philosophy and Ethics (2014)


‘Playtest: Virtual Reality and Fear’, Forthcoming in Philosophy and Black Mirror(Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series, 2019), edited by David Kyle Johnson, Series Editor: William Irwin

‘A New Ethics for Virtual Worlds’, Forthcoming in TheVan Leer Jerusalem Magazine and Ha’aretz(2018)

‘An Eloquent Woman is Never Chaste’, Review of Caroline Criado Perez’s Do It Like A Woman, in The Erotic Review(2015)

 ‘Tackling the Philosophy Essay: A Student Guide’, Co-written with Christina Cameron, Amanda Cawston, and Shyane Siriwardena, under Creative Commons, in various formats: http://www.phil.cam.ac.uk/curr- students/IA/curr-students/writing-skils/