Freedom and moral enhancement

Journal of Medical Ethics 40 (4):215-216 (2014)
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Abstract

This issue of Journal of Medical Ethics includes a pair of papers debating the implications of moral bioenhancement for human freedom–and, especially, the question of whether moral enhancement should potentially be compulsory. In earlier writings Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu argue that compulsory moral bioenhancement may be necessary to prevent against catastrophic harms that might result from immoral behaviour.1 In “Voluntary moral enhancement and the survival-at-any-cost bias” Vojin Rakic agrees with P&S that moral bioenhancement is important, but he argues that bioenhancement interventions should be voluntary rather than compulsory .Both Rakic and P&S disagree with Harris, who denies that moral enhancement could involve interventions beyond cognitive enhancement. Moral enhancement would essentially involve cognitive enhancement, according to Harris, because moral behaviour requires ability to distinguish right from wrong–ie, awareness and rational capacity.2 While Harris admits that those who know what is right might not always do what is right, he argues that we could not altogether prevent people from doing what is wrong without destroying freedom essential to their moral agency.According to Rakic, however, the fact that people who know what is right might not always do what is right reveals that mere cognitive enhancement would be inadequate to prevent immoral behavior–because much immoral behaviour results from weakness of will. Because people could freely chose to undergo moral enhancement, furthermore, according to Rakic, “our freedom will not be curtailed by it”. Presumably Rakic here supposes that if a person freely choses to be in State A then State A is necessarily compatible with–and a reflection of–her human freedom. Forcing a person to be in State A, on the other hand, …

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Michael Selgelid
Monash University