Unfit for the Future argues that the future of our species depends on radical enhancement of the moral aspects of our nature. Population growth and technological advances are threatening to undermine the conditions of worthwhile life on earth forever. We need to modify the biological bases of human motivation to deal with this challenge.
abstract As history shows, some human beings are capable of acting very immorally. 1 Technological advance and consequent exponential growth in cognitive power means that even rare evil individuals can act with catastrophic effect. The advance of science makes biological, nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction easier and easier to fabricate and, thus, increases the probability that they will come into the hands of small terrorist groups and deranged individuals. Cognitive enhancement by means of drugs, implants and biological (including (...) genetic) interventions could thus accelerate the advance of science, or its application, and so increase the risk of the development or misuse of weapons of mass destruction. We argue that this is a reason which speaks against the desirability of cognitive enhancement, and the consequent speedier growth of knowledge, if it is not accompanied by an extensive moral enhancement of humankind. We review the possibilities for moral enhancement by biomedical and genetic means and conclude that, though it should be possible in principle, it is in practice probably distant. There is thus a reason not to support cognitive enhancement in the foreseeable future. However, we grant that there are also reasons in its favour, but we do not attempt to settle the balance between these reasons for and against. Rather, we conclude that if research into cognitive enhancement continues, as it is likely to, it must be accompanied by research into moral enhancement. (shrink)
We respond to a number of objections raised by John Harris in this journal to our argument that we should pursue genetic and other biological means of morally enhancing human beings (moral bioenhancement). We claim that human beings now have at their disposal means of wiping out life on Earth and that traditional methods of moral education are probably insufficient to achieve the moral enhancement required to ensure that this will not happen. Hence, we argue, moral bioenhancement should be sought (...) and applied. We argue that cognitive enhancement and technological progress raise acute problems because it is easier to harm than to benefit. We address objections to this argument. We also respond to objections that moral bioenhancement: (1) interferes with freedom; (2) cannot be made to target immoral dispositions precisely; (3) is redundant, since cognitive enhancement by itself suffices. (shrink)
We have a duty to try to develop and apply safe and cost-effective means to increase the probability that we shall do what we morally ought to do. It is here argued that this includes biomedical means of moral enhancement, that is, pharmaceutical, neurological or genetic means of strengthening the central moral drives of altruism and a sense of justice. Such a strengthening of moral motivation is likely to be necessary today because common-sense morality having its evolutionary origin in small-scale (...) societies with primitive technology will become much more demanding if it is revised to serve the needs of contemporary globalized societies with an advanced technology capable of affecting conditions of life world-wide for centuries to come. (shrink)
In its basic sense, the term "human" is a term of biological classification: an individual is human just in case it is a member of the species Homo sapiens . Its opposite is "nonhuman": nonhuman animals being animals that belong to other species than H. sapiens . In another sense of human, its opposite is "inhuman," that is cruel and heartless (cf. "humane" and "inhumane"); being human in this sense is having morally good qualities. This paper argues that biomedical research (...) and therapy should make humans in the biological sense more human in the moral sense, even if they cease to be human in the biological sense. This serves valuable biomedical ends like the promotion of health and well-being, for if humans do not become more moral, civilization is threatened. It is unimportant that humans remain biologically human, since they do not have moral value in virtue of belonging to H. sapiens. (shrink)
This is a reply to Jesse Prinz and Paul Bloom’s skepticism about the moral importance of empathy. It concedes that empathy is spontaneously biased to individuals who are spatio-temporally close, as well as discriminatory in other ways, and incapable of accommodating large numbers of individuals. But it is argued that we could partly correct these shortcomings of empathy by a guidance of reason because empathy for others consists in imagining what they feel, and, importantly, such acts of imagination can be (...) voluntary – and, thus, under the influence of reflection – as well as automatic. Since empathizing with others motivates concern for their welfare, a reflectively justified empathy will lead to a likewise justified altruistic concern. In addition, we argue that such concern supports another central moral attitude, namely a sense of justice or fairness. (shrink)
In this paper we reply to the most important objections to our advocacy of moral enhancement by biomedical means – moral bioenhancement – that John Harris advances in his new book How to be Good. These objections are to effect that such moral enhancement undercuts both moral reasoning and freedom. The latter objection is directed more specifically at what we have called the God Machine, a super-duper computer which predicts our decisions and prevents decisions to perpertrate morally atrocious acts. In (...) reply, we argue first that effective moral bioenhancement presupposes moral reasoning rather than undermines it. Secondly, that the God Machine would leave us with extensive freedom and that the restrictions it imposes on it are morally justified by the prevention of harm to victims. (shrink)
In his challenging paper,1 Vojin Rakic argues against our claim that ‘there are strong reasons to believe’ that moral bioenhancement should be obligatory or compulsory if it can be made safe and effective.2 Rakic starts by criticising an argument that we employed against John Harris.3 ,4 In this argument we maintain, among other things, that moral bioenhancement cannot be wholly effective if our will is free in what is called an ‘indeterministic’ or ‘contra-causal sense’; that is, if our choices are (...) not fully determined by our biology and environmental circumstances. Rakic contends that we ‘do not take into account the possibility that we can have an entirely free will that does not limit the effectiveness of moral bio-enhancement’. We can use ‘our freedom to decide to be morally bio-enhanced’.In reply, we would like to insist that if our freedom is freedom in this indeterministic sense, we cannot use this freedom to decide to subject ourselves to effective moral bioenhancement, since this effectiveness presupposes that our will is fully determined by biological causes that this enhancement influences. If certain sub-atomic processes are indeterministic, probabilistic, we cannot make them deterministic. We cannot change the laws …. (shrink)
The Retreat of Reason brings back to philosophy the ambition of offering a broad vision of the human condition. One of the main original aims of philosophy was to give people guidance about how to live their lives. Ingmar Persson resumes this practical project, which has been largely neglected in contemporary philosophy, but his conclusions are very different from those of the ancient Greeks. They typically argued that a life led in accordance with reason, a rational life, would also be (...) the happiest or most fulfilling. By exploring the irrationality of our attitudes to time, identity, and responsibility, Persson shows that the aim of living rationally conflicts not only with the aim of leading the most fulfilling life, but also with the moral aim of promoting the maximization and just distribution of fulfilment for all. The Retreat of Reason challenges some of our most fundamental ideas about ourselves. (shrink)
Inclusive Ethics brings together two ideas which are part of our everyday morality, namely that we have a moral reason to benefit or do good to other beings, and that justice requires these benefits to be distributed equally. Ingmar Persson explores the difficulties of accepting a morality which combines both of these principles.
We have argued for an urgent need for moral bioenhancement; that human moral psychology is limited in its ability to address current existential threats due to the evolutionary function of morality to maximize cooperation in small groups. We address here Powell and Buchanan's novel objection that there is an ‘inclusivist anomaly’: humans have the capacity to care beyond in-groups. They propose that ‘exclusivist’ morality is sensitive to environmental cues that historically indicated out-group threat. When this is not present, we are (...) inclusivist. They conclude that moral bioenhancement is unnecessary or less effective than socio-cultural interventions. We argue that Powell and Buchanan underestimate the hard-wiring features of moral psychology; their appeal to adaptively plastic, conditionally expressed responses accounts for only a fragment of our moral psychology. In addition to restrictions on our altruistic concern that their account addresses – such as racism and sexism – there are ones it is ill-suited to address: that our concern is stronger for kin and friends and for concrete individuals rather than for statistical lives; also our bias towards the near future. Hard-wired features of our moral psychology that are not clearly restrictions in altruistic concern also include reciprocity, tit-for-tat, and others. Biomedical means are not the only, and maybe not the most important, means of moral enhancement. Socio-cultural means are of great importance and there are currently no biomedical interventions for many hard-wired features. Nevertheless research is desirable because the influence of these features is greater than our critics think. (shrink)
We examine the philosophical and ethical issues associated with conjoined twins and their surgical separation. In cases in which there is an extensive sharing of organs, but nevertheless two distinguishable functioning brains, there are a number of philosophical and ethical challenges. This is because such conjoined twins: 1. give rise to puzzles concerning our identity, about whether we are identical to something psychological or biological;2. force us to decide whether what matters from an ethical point of view is the biological (...) life of our organisms or the existence of our consciousness or mind; 3. raise questions concerning when, if ever, it is morally acceptable to sacrifice one of us to save another;4. force us to reflect on the conditions for ownership of organs and the justification of removal of organs for transplantation which causes the death of the donor; 5. raise questions about who should take decisions about life-risking treatments when this cannot be decided by patients themselves.We examine and suggest answers to these questions. (shrink)
In his reply to our response to his book How to be Good, John Harris accuses us of saying ‘two mutually contradictory things’ when in fact we talk about two different things. In this short response, we distinguish between moral enhancement and interventions which promote moral behaviour but undermine freedom. We argue that moral enhancement does not necessarily undermine freedom. Interventions, such as the God Machine, which do undermine freedom are not moral enhancements as we conceive of them. But they (...) might nonetheless be justified because freedom must be balanced against other values, such as well-being. (shrink)
Derek Parfit has argued that, in contrast to prioritarianism, egalitarianism is exposed to the levelling down objection, i.e., the objection that it is absurd that a change which consists merely in the betteroff losing some of their well-being should be in one way for the better. In reply, this paper contends that there is a plausible form of egalitarianism which is equivalent to another form of prioritarianism than the Parfitian one, a relational rather than an absolute form of prioritarianism, and (...) that, although this relational or egalitarian form of prioritarianism is hit by the levelling down objection, the Parfitian form is also hit by it, or worse objections, if it is fully worked out. (shrink)
Derek Parfit has argued that (Teleological) Egalitarianism is objectionable by breaking a person-affecting claim to the effect that an outcome cannot be better in any respect - such as that of equality - if it is better for nobody. So, he presents the Priorty View, i.e., the policy of giving priority to benefiting the worse-off, which avoids this objection. But it is here argued, first, that there is another person-affecting claim that this view violates. Secondly, Egalitarianism can be construed as (...) person-affecting in a weaker sense. Thirdly, it is possible to construct a Relational version of the Priority View which incorporates the Egalitarian value of just equality in this sense. Two reasons are given for why this Relational View and Egalitarianism are superior to the Parfitian Absolute Priority View. However, no attempt is made to abjudicate between the first two views, the main point being that they both accept the value of just equality in the same sense. (shrink)
Many philosophers think that if you're morally responsible for a state of affairs, you must be a cause of it. Ingmar Persson argues that this strand of common sense morality is asymmetrical, in that it features the act-omission doctrine, according to which there are stronger reasons against performing some harmful actions than in favour of performing any beneficial actions. He analyses the act-omission doctrine as consisting in a theory of negative rights, according to which there are rights not to have (...) one's life, body, and property interfered with, and a conception of responsibility as being based on causality. This conception of responsibility is also found to be involved in the doctrine of double effect. The outcome of Persson's critical examination of these ideas is that reasons of rights are replaced by reasons of beneficence, and we are made responsible for what is under the influence of our practical reasons. The argument gives rise to a symmetrical, consequentialist morality which is more demanding but less authoritative than common sense morality, because reasons of beneficence are weaker than reasons of rights. It is also argued that there are no non-naturalist external practical reasons, and all practical reasons are desire-dependent: so practical reasons cannot be universally binding. The question is whether such a morality possesses enough authority to command our compliance. This seems necessary in order for us to cope with the greatest moral problems of our time, such as aid to developing countries and anthropogenic climate change. (shrink)
Elizabeth Fenton has criticised an earlier article by the authors in which the claim was made that, by providing humankind with means of causing its destruction, the advance of science and technology has put it in a perilous condition that might take the development of genetic or biomedical techniques of moral enhancement to get out of. The development of these techniques would, however, require further scientific advances, thus forcing humanity deeper into the danger zone created by modern science. Fenton argues (...) that the benefits of scientific advances are undervalued. The authors believe that the argument rather relies upon attaching a special weight to even very slight risks of major catastrophes, and attempt to vindicate this weighting. (shrink)
Much disease and disability is the result of lifestyle behaviours. For example, the contribution of imprudence in the form of smoking, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and drug and alcohol abuse to ill-health is now well established. More importantly, some of the greatest challenges facing humanity as a whole – climate change, terrorism, global poverty, depletion of resources, abuse of children, overpopulation – are the result of human behaviour. In this chapter, we will explore the possibility of using advances in the (...) cognitive sciences to develop strategies to intentionally manipulate human motivation and behaviour. While our arguments apply also to improving prudential motivation and behaviour in relation to health, we will focus on the more controversial instance: the deliberate targeted use of biomedicine to improve moral motivation and behaviour. We do this because the challenge of improving human morality is arguably the most important issue facing humankind (Persson and Savulescu, forthcoming). We will ask whether using the knowledge from the biological and cognitive sciences to influence motivation and behaviour erodes autonomy and, if so, whether this makes it wrong. (shrink)
We present an analysis of a notion of the meaning of life, according to which our lives have meaning if we spend them intentionally producing what has value for ourselves or others. In this sense our lives can have meaning even if a science-inspired view of the world is correct, and they are only transient phenomena in a vast universe. Our lives are more or less meaningful in this sense due to the difference in value for ourselves and others we (...) intentionally create while leading them. These inequalities are morally unjustifiable because they are ultimately due to factors beyond our responsibility and control. But from the point of view of eternity these differences in meaningfulness and value dwindle to insignificance, and this offers some consolation for the unjustifiable inequalities. (shrink)
Building on the strengths of the highly successful first edition, the extensively updated _Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory_ presents a complete state-of-the-art survey, written by an international team of leading moral philosophers. __ A new edition of this successful and highly regarded _Guide_, now reorganized and updated with the addition of significant new material Includes 21 essays written by an international team of leading philosophers Extensive, substantive essays develop the main arguments of all the leading viewpoints in ethical theory Essays (...) new to this edition cover evolution and ethics, capability ethics, virtues and consequences, and the implausibility of virtue ethics. (shrink)
Ingmar Persson offers an original view of the processes of human action: deliberating on the basis of reasons for and against actions, making a decision about what to do, and implementing the decision in action in a way that makes the action intentional.
I shall discuss only one of Nicholas Agar's main claims,1 namely ‘that the bad consequences/of moral status enhancement/are, in moral terms, so bad that a moderate probability of their occurrence makes it wrong not to seek to prevent them’. His other main claim, which I grant, is that moral status enhancement to the effect of creating beings with a moral status higher than that of persons—post-persons—is possible. My chief objection to Agar's argument is that it is biased in favour of (...) persons. This comes out when he sums it up: ‘the creation of post-persons would be a morally bad thing. It is likely to impose significant penalties on mere persons’. Suppose it is true that the creation of post-persons will impose such significant penalties on mere persons that they are worse off than they were before the creation of post-persons. Then it follows that the creation of post-persons is bad for mere persons, but it does not follow that it is bad overall. This follows only if it is not the case that post-persons receive benefits to an extent that morally outweighs the burdens to mere persons. As far as I can see, Agar does not show this—that is why I think he is biased towards mere persons, and simply assumes that what is bad for them is bad overall.I have, in fact, been too concessive to Agar …. (shrink)
Derek Parfit has argued that egalitarianism is exposed to a levelling down objection because it implies, implausibly, that a change, which consists only in the better-off sinking to the level of the worse-off, is in one respect better, though it is better for nobody. He claims that, in contrast, the prioritarian view that benefits to the worse-off have greater moral weight escapes this objection. This article contends, first, that prioritarianism is equally affected by the levelling down objection as is egalitarianism, (...) but that this objection lacks force. Secondly, prioritarianism is less plausible than egalitarianism because it implies that lowering the level of equality by diffusing a quantity of welfare equally over as many recipients as possible is for the better all things considered, and that the outcome of such welfare diffusion would still be better in one respect, even if the quantity of welfare was radically reduced. (shrink)
G. E. Moore raised the question of whether consequentialists ought to maximize actual rather than expected value, and came down in favour of the former alternative. But rather recently Frank Jackson has presented an example which has been widely thought to clinch the case in favour of the alternative view. This article argues for a sort of compromise between these rival views, namely that while we ought to do what maximizes actual value, we ought to try to do what maximizes (...) expected value. It is claimed that consequentialists could consistently adopt this view, though in Jackson's case they are certain that, if they try to maximize expected value, they shall most likely not maximize actual value. (shrink)
It has been argued that there can be no person‐regarding reasons for practising genetic therapy, since it affects identity and causes to exist an individual who would not otherwise have existed. And there can be no such reasons for causing somebody to exist because existing cannot be better for an individual than never existing. In the present paper, both of these claims are denied. It is contended, first, that in practically all significant cases genetic therapy will not affect the identity (...) of beings of our kind. This is so irrespective of whether, essentially, we are beings with minds or beings of a certain biological species, the human one. Second, it is contended that, even if genetic therapy were to affect our identity, there could be person‐regarding reasons for conducting it, for existence can be better than non‐existence for the individual. (shrink)
The authors respond to a wide range of objections defending our argument that some forms of behaviour modification utilising advances in the cognitive sciences are desirable and need not necessarily undermine autonomy or freedom.
In opposition to what we claimed in Unfit for the Future, Jan Christoph Bublitz argues that people have a right to privacy which stands in the way of the use of biomedical moral enhancement. We reply that it is not clear that he has understood what we mean by a right to privacy, that we were speaking of moral and not a legal right to privacy, and that we take a moral right to privacy to be a right against others (...) that they don’t acquire certain beliefs about us. This is compatible with the fact that the means they use to acquire beliefs about us, or the use to which they put these beliefs could violate our moral rights. Once these points are taken on board, it becomes clear that the existence of a right to privacy is irrelevant to biomedical moral enhancement which consists in changing us rather than simply acquiring information about us. (shrink)
I have earlier argued that, like egalitarianism, prioritarianism is exposed to the levelling down objection—which I do not find serious—but also that it faces related, more serious objections that egalitarianism avoids. In this paper I reply to Thomas Porter’s attempt to rebut this argument. I also trace the more serious objections to prioritarianism to the fact that it implies the desirability of welfare diffusion, i.e. that it is better all things considered if a quantity of welfare is distributed over as (...) many recipients as possible, so that each recipient gets a minimal benefit, and that the outcome would still be in one respect better, even if the quantity of welfare was reduced. In contrast to egalitarianism, prioritarianism therefore implies that it is in one respect better if an equality, or a solitary individual, is located at lower rather than a higher level of welfare. (shrink)
There are two fundamental aspects of the notion of a self: it is the owner of one's experiences, that to which one's experiences are properly attributed, and it perceives itself. is a condition on the self's being capable of attributing experiences to itself or being introspectively aware of its experiences, which constitutes a third, higher-order aspect of the self. I claim that it is a common sense assumption, enshrined in the use of 'I', that one's body satisfies the first two (...) aspects. I then argue that these two aspects are not really satisfied by one's body, which is essentially a human organism. Nor are they satisfied by anything of any other kind. So we are not identical to things of any kind, since one can be identical only to that which is one's self or is the referent of one's uses of, 'I'. (shrink)
Fred Feldman has argued that consequentialists can answer the well-known by replacing the utilitarian axiology with one that makes the value of receiving pleasures and pains depend on how deserved it is. It is shown that this proposal is open to three interpretations: the Fit-idea, which operates with the degree of fit between what recipients get and what they deserve; the Merit-idea, which operates with the magnitude of the recipients' desert or merit; and the Fit-Merit idea which is a combination (...) of and. It is argued that none of these ideas will do, among other things because they fail to take into account the fact that justice involves inter-personal comparisons. (shrink)
This paper presents a simple argument against definitions of the death of a human being in terms of death, or the cessation of functioning, of its brain: a human being is alive, and is capable of dying, before it acquires a brain. Although a more accurate definition is sketched, it is stressed that it should not be taken for granted that it is ethically urgent to work out such a definition. What morally matters more than the death of a human (...) being may be something for which its death is sufficient, but not necessary, namely the irreversible loss of its capacity for consciousness. It is when we lose this capacity that we lose our moral standing, as subjects who can be benefited and harmed, and who can have rights. But, as is also suggested, the loss of this capacity is ill suited to be what the death of a human being definitionally consists of. (shrink)
This article examines Derek Parfit's claim in Reasons and Persons that personal identity consists in non-branching psychological continuity with the right kind of cause. It argues that such psychological accounts of our identity fail, but that their main rivals, biological or animalist accounts do not fare better. Instead it proposes an error-theory to the effect that common sense takes us to be identical to our bodies on the erroneous assumption that our minds belong non-derivatively to them, whereas they in fact (...) belong to them derivatively in virtue of belonging to some proper parts of them, namely certain features of their brains. However, these features do not meet another necessary condition of being the subject or owner of our minds: the condition of being “accessible” so that we can attribute our mental states to them in everyday life. There is also the problem of specifying these features more precisely. Nothing meets these two conditions, so we are not identical to anything. This conclusion fits well with Parfit's claim that personal identity is not what matters. But although this negative claim is true, it is suggested that Parfit's positive account of what matters is mistaken: it is rather psychological similarity than psychological continuity/connectedness that matters. (shrink)
The fundamental problem of philosophy is whether doing it has any point, since if it does not have any point, there is no reason to do it. It is suggested that the intrinsic point of doing philosophy is to establish a rational consensus about what the answers to its main questions are. But it seems that this cannot be accomplished because philosophical arguments are bound to be inconclusive. Still, philosophical research generates an increasing number of finer grained distinctions in terms (...) of which we try to conceptualize reality, and this is a sort of progress. But if, as is likely, our arguments do not suffice to decide between these alternatives, our personalities might slip in to do so. Our philosophy will then express our personality. This could provide philosophy with a point for us. If some of our conclusions have practical import, philosophy could have the further point of giving us something by which we can live. (shrink)