Upgrading Discussions of Cognitive Enhancement

Neuroethics 9 (1):53-67 (2016)

Advocates of cognitive enhancement maintain that technological advances would augment autonomy indirectly by expanding the range of options available to individuals, while, in a recent article in this journal, Schaefer, Kahane, and Savulescu propose that cognitive enhancement would improve it more directly. Here, autonomy, construed in broad procedural terms, is at the fore. In contrast, when lauding the goodness of enhancement expressly, supporters’ line of argument is utilitarian, of an ideal variety. An inherent conflict results, for, within their utilitarian frame, the content of rational, hence autonomous, choices is quite restricted. Further, advocates do not clearly indicate their relative emphasis between the often conflicting goals of maximizing benefit and avoiding harm. In practice, their construction of harms is highly expansive, for disabilities include any constraints that “rational” people would decline if it were technically possible to do so. For advocates, this means that where enhancement measures are available, those constraints become avoidable limitations, and not to remove them is to harm. The centrality of harm-avoidance and their ideal utilitarian frame entail sociopolitical requirements that enhancement defenders disallow when trumpeting autonomy in the vein of individual choice. Advocates have thus not done enough to support the claim that their views are wholly separate from earlier eugenics.
Keywords Cognitive enhancement  Autonomy  Utilitarianism  Harm  Eugenics
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DOI 10.1007/s12152-016-9253-z
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