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 area of specialisation is in ethics, in two capacities: normative questions including supererogation, blame, atonement and forgiveness, as well as applied questions in the ethics 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.

In applied ethics, I work on the ethics of technology, specifically of technologies of virtuality and artificiality.  I examine the ethical status of these technologies and their products as well as the potential that they have to challenge our current ethics and its application, by demanding the creation of new principles to govern behaviour or even changes to our conceptual framework. Within my project, I focus on three topics. First, I am examining the ethics of creating virtual child pornography: sexually explicit images depicting children that escape the traditional moral critique of child pornography because they do not, by definition, require the sexual abuse of children. Second, I am investigating the area of ethics for artificial agents: military robots, artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, social robots and so on. As these technologies continue to develop, it becomes increasingly clear that we need to teach them to behave ethically. One of the question I address is which ethics, exploring whether their ethics would be the same as our own or radically different. Finally, I am examining the ethics of virtual reality and how this is affected by the development of immersive experience technologies (such as 3D projection, holograms, haptics and telepresence) whereby virtual worlds simulate reality more and more closely. I am interested in particular in questions of our agency in such environments and whether these technological developments lead to real changes in the opportunities, means and nature of what it is to be—and to do—good or bad.


‘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/