Artificial pastoral care: abdication, delegation or collaboration?

Eric Stoddart*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This paper considers the relationship between Christian pastoral care and Artificial Intelligence systems. Four aspects are identified from definitions of pastoral care: the horizon of contingency in mortality, the role of wisdom rather than mere information, the oppressive and/or liberatory potential of AI and the importance of empathic presence. In rejecting a transhumanist argument that mental processes are substrate-independent, it is contended that pastoral carers embrace, rather than seeking to circumvent, their crucial finitude in being humans who care. A distinction is drawn between probabilistic reasoning and judgment in retaining a vital place for decision-making that is social. Whilst not eschewing value in AI systems, the paper argues for critical evaluation of technologically-framed contributions to addressing barriers to people’s participation. The importance of empathy is highlighted – in the light of claims of not only robotic mimicry but of interindividual models of emotion. It is concluded that the notion of artificial care be ruled out although the possibilities of AI-assisted care are not dismissed. Opportunities for humans to abdicate from the responsibilities to care, in favour of AI substitutes, are deemed to be best avoided.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)660-674
Number of pages15
JournalStudies in Christian Ethics
Issue number3
Early online date2 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2023


  • Pastoral care
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Wisdom
  • Empathy
  • Good Samaritan
  • Transhumanism


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