Susan B. Levin argues that Plato's engagement with medicine is richer than previously recognized and that he views it as an important rival for authority on nature and flourishing. Levin shows further that Plato's work, particularly the Laws, holds significant promise for bioethics that has so far been nearly untapped.
In this study, Levin explores Plato's engagement with the Greek literary tradition in his treatment of key linguistic issues. This investigation, conjoined with a new interpretation of the Republic's familiar critique of poets, supports the view that Plato's work represents a valuable precedent for contemporary reflections on ways in which philosophy might benefit from appeals to literature.
The debate over moral bioenhancement has incrementally intensified since 2008, when Persson and Savulescu, and Douglas wrote two separate articles on the reasons why enhancing human moral capabilities and sensitivity through technological means was ethically desirable. In this article, we offer a critique of how Persson and Savulescu theorize about the possibility of moral bioenhancement, including the problem of weakness of will, which they see as a motivational challenge. First, we offer a working definition of moral bioenhancement and underscore some (...) of the challenges in determining whether moral bioenhancement, as conceptualized by Persson and Savulescu, falls into the category of enhancement or constitutes a type of therapeutic intervention. Second, we provide a critical analysis of the way Persson and Savulescu pathologize human behavior in relation to what they see as the main threat to the survival of the human species: weak moral motivation. Next, we critique the claim that the use of genetic manipulation and drug treatment will increase moral motivation. We argue that Persson and Savulescu mischaracterize the nature of human moral psychology because moral motivation includes affective and cognitive dimensions. The type of interventions they envision focus almost exclusively on the former. In the final two sections, we outline three main criticisms of moral bioenhancement and offer a more robust account of moral psychology and moral development than what Persson and Savulescu recommend, through the lens of Aristotle’s work on virtue ethics. Ultimately, we argue that what Persson and Savulescu, and Douglas consider as moral bioenhancement is a misnomer because they do not fully account for the complexity of moral agency. (shrink)
To reassure those concerned about wholesale discontinuity between human existence and posthumanity, transhumanists assert shared ground with antiquity on vital challenges and aspirations. Because their claims reflect key misconceptions, there is no shared vision for transhumanists to invoke. Having exposed their misuses of Prometheus, Plato, and Aristotle, I show that not only do transhumanists and antiquity crucially diverge on our relation to ideals, contrast-dependent aspiration, and worthy endeavors but that illumining this divide exposes central weaknesses in transhumanist argumentation. What is (...) more, antiquity’s handling of these topics suggests a way through the impasse in current enhancement debates about human “nature” and helps to resolve a tension within transhumanists’ accounts of what our best moments signify about the ontological requirements for real flourishing. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
Transhumanists would have humanity's creation of posthumanity be our governing aim. Susan B. Levin challenges their overarching commitments regarding the mind, brain, ethics, liberal democracy, knowledge, and reality. Her critique unmasks their notion of humanity's self-transcendence via science and technology as pure, albeit seductive, fantasy.
The most contentious issue in current debates about human enhancement is whether it properly belongs to human aspiration to outstrip our human ceiling in cognition and longevity so radically that the result would not be improved human beings but instead "posthumans." Transhumanists answer strongly in the affirmative and hence vigorously support our directing available and foreseeable technologies to that end. According to Nick Bostrom, transhumanism is "an outgrowth of secular humanism and the Enlightenment." Our "ceasing to be human is [not] (...) in any way problematic" as long as we are "replaced by something better".Of the two main lines of technological approach that... (shrink)
According to transhumanists who urge the radical enhancement of human beings, humanity’s top priority should be engineering “posthumans,” whose features would include agelessness. Increasingly, transhumanism is critiqued on foundational grounds rather than based largely on anticipated results of its implementation, such as rising social inequality. This expansion is crucial but insufficient because, despite its radical aim, transhumanism reflects beliefs and attitudes that are evident in the broader culture. With a focus on the yearning to eliminate aging, I consider four of (...) these: a disproportionate reliance on science and technology to address major human challenges; the conceptualization of human beings in terms of binaries like “young-old”; a repudiation of vulnerability; and intensifying perfectionism. Illuminating these interlocked commitments both deepens an existing critique of transhumanism and draws our attention to deleterious cultural views that must be vigorously contested if our commitment to human flourishing is to be deep and unwavering. (shrink)
From the standpoint of disability advocacy, further exploration of the concept of well-being stands to be availing. The notion that “welfarism” about disability, which Julian Savulescu and Guy Kahane debuted, qualifies as helpful is encouraged by their claim that welfarism shares important commitments with that advocacy. As becomes clear when they apply their welfarist frame to procreative decisions, endorsing welfarism would, in fact, sharply undermine it. Savulescu and Kahane's Principle of Procreative Beneficence—which reflects transhumanism, or advocacy of radical bioenhancement—morally requires (...) parents to choose the child who will, in all probability, have “the best life.” Assuming the emergence of potent biotechnologies, procreative decision-making would be highly standardized, for prospective parents would be morally obliged to maximize select capacities, including intelligence, self-control, and hedonic set-point, in their children. Welfarism, applied to reproduction, is staunchly objectivist about what course is incumbent on decision-makers, giving no credence to first-personal values, aspirations, and experiences. Though this dismissal of individual perspectives applies to everyone, its implications for disability advocacy are especially severe. With that advocacy in view, greater attention to “well-being” should, therefore, be severed from the welfarism of Savulescu and Kahane. (shrink)
By exploring a competition for authority on health and human nature between Plato and Hippocratic medicine, this paper offers a fresh perspective on an overarching debate today involving health and the role of healthcare in its safeguarding. Economically and politically, healthcare continues to dominate the USA’s handling of health, construed biophysically as the absence of disease. Yet, notoriously, in major health outcomes, the USA fares worse than other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Clearly, in giving (...) pre-eminence to healthcare, the USA is doing far less than it could to protect and improve health. Meanwhile, mounting evidence supports the view that health impacts of social determinants besides healthcare (eg, education) surpass healthcare in heft. Circumscribed shifts in the USA’s current frame will not suffice: what’s needed is a change in its overall template for addressing health. Unless this is widely seen, the sway of biomedicine will likely be reduced slowly, if at all. That biomedicine’s role in relation to health is raised increasingly as a question is a sign that its ongoing supremacy is not a forgone conclusion. But making the most of this opportunity requires appreciating that ’How should health’s relationship to medicine be conceptualised?’ is not the most fundamental query that we need to pose. Through consideration of Hippocratic medicine and Plato, I argue that the most availing answer to this particular question can come only after exploration of three larger questions involving health’s status as a human good and its relationship to human flourishing. Exploration of the Greeks is, thus, valuable methodologically. What’s more, it supports today’s advocacy of ’health promotion’, a perspective tying health closely to well-being that has yet to achieve the overall prominence that it warrants. (shrink)
Near the climax of the ascent passage of the Symposium, Plato describes how the lover turns to gaze at the great sea of the beautiful and. While the phrase has been variously interpreted by commentators and translators, none has regarded it as particularly significant. In what follows we examine the contribution that the immediate context makes to the meaning of the phrase and take note of the link between the adjective φθονος and two subsequent uses of φθονω, both with reference (...) to Alcibiades. We conclude that in the two final scenes of the dialogue the repetition of φθονος and φθονω has the same effect as the repetition of the well-studied adverb ξαφνης. By virtue of these contextual associations, we suggest, the prepositional phrase acquires a new significance. Furthermore, on the interpretation developed here the dialogue's two final scenes encapsulate the view of the incompatibility of jealousy and philosophy that Plato sets forth more explicitly and at greater length in the Phaedrus and Republic. (shrink)
This paper presents Stoicism as, in broad historical terms, the point of origin in Western thought of an extreme form of rational essentialism that persists today in the debate over human bioenhancement. Advocates of “radical” enhancement would have us codify extreme rational essentialism through manipulation of genes and the brain to maximize rational ability and eliminate the capacity for emotions deemed unsalutary. They, like Stoics, see anger as especially dangerous. The ancient dispute between Stoics and Aristotle over the nature and (...) permissibility of anger has contemporary analogues. I argue that, on the merits, this controversy should, finally, be put to rest in Aristotle’s favor. Beyond its philosophical assets, Aristotle’s perspective meshes well with “appraisal theory” of emotion in psychology and corresponding discoveries in neuroscience. What’s more, consideration of the ongoing struggle to achieve full racial equality in the United States supports the view that anger at this ongoing gap between λόγος and ἔργον is legitimate, and has a constructive role to play in furthering liberal democracy. As we are well positioned to retire the Stoics’ legacy regarding anger, all the more should we eschew transhumanists’ proposal to implement their position biologically, at which point debate over the nature and worth of anger would be permanently moot. (shrink)
How we assess current calls for vigorous, or “radical”, enhancement through befitting procreative choices depends in part on the plausibility of supporters’ rejecting all substantive ties between their views and earlier eugenics. When denying such connections, today’s advocates of vigorous enhancement routinely emphasize that enhancement decisions would stem from individuals and families, not the state. In a multipronged critique, I show the untenability of transhumanists’ denials.
If Savulescu and Kahane’s Principle of Procreative Beneficence were implemented regarding cognitive enhancement, the result would be highly impoverishing for future children. For, apart from being inadequate to rationality itself, advocates’ accounts of cognitive enhancement sever reason from the input to judgments and decision-making that other faculties provide. When handling desire, supporters of cognitive enhancement frame conflicts between reason and the nonrational in terms of self-governance or akratic failure, depending on which one triumphs. Further, so-called negative emotions are treated as (...) simply deleterious and hostile to the rational. Alliances of the nonrational with reason toward shared ends are hence unthinkable. Having critiqued advocates’ views directly, I amplify my assessment through engagement with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Per Savulescu and Kahane, to know how to direct enhancement endeavors, “we need to form reasonable opinions on difficult questions about the nature of well-being and the good life.” Thus far, however, enhancement supporters have been largely silent on this crucial matter. Because the debate over enhancement is ultimately over what values our views of flourishing embody, it should be recast so that this crux is squarely at the fore. What is more, for our own and our children’s sakes, as we embark on this reframing, we would do well to bear in mind Aristotle’s insights about the nonrational in relation to reason and his unwavering focus on the human “that for the sake of which” (hou heneka) all that we do is, perforce, undertaken. (shrink)
Recently the view that Plato moves from optimism to pessimism concerning the best sociopolitical condition has come under attack. The present article concurs that this disjunction is too simplistic and finds emphasis on the regulative status of the Republic’s ideal of unity to be salutary. It diverges, however, on how to interpret it thus construed and the implications of its status as regulative for the Republic’s tie to the Laws where human governance is concerned. While unity through aretē remains the (...) guiding telos of Magnesia, the route through which it is sought diverges substantially from that of Kallipolis. This article demonstrates that it stretches the notion beyond all reasonable limits to call the Laws’ unity an approximation of the Republic’s and its infrastructure for communal maintenance, above all, the nocturnal council, the approximation of philosopher-rulers for which the earlier dialogue calls. (shrink)
This article challenges the widespread assumption that Plato’s valuation of medicine remains steady across the corpus. While Plato’s opposition to poetry and sophistry/rhetoric endures, in the Laws he no longer views medicine as a rival concerning phusis and eudaimonia. Why is this dispute laid to rest, even as the others continue? This article argues that the Laws’ developments with a bearing onmedicine stem ultimately from the philosopher-ruler’s disappearance. The deeper appreciation of good medical practice that ensues, combined with an array (...) of sociopolitical mechanisms for detecting injustice, means that the health care setting is no longer—as in the Republic—the crossroads where judgments of the whole person must be made. For the first time, by Plato’s lights, medicine may be a truly self-standing technē. (shrink)
The question, what measures to address the shortage of transplantable organs are ethically permissible? requires careful attention because, apart from its impact on medical practice, the stance we espouse here reflects our interpretations of human freedom and mortality. To raise the number of available organs, on utilitarian grounds, bioethicists and medical professionals increasingly support mandatory procurement. This view is at odds with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, according to which ‘[o]rgan donation after death is a noble and meritorious act’ (...) but ethically impermissible absent consent. Those who concur with this position, but would oppose conscription on independent philosophical grounds, have not yet found a voice in the Western tradition comparable in strength to the utilitarian basis of the policy’s support, for Kantian and Aristotelian ethics, too, lend themselves to a requirement that we make our organs available to others when they can no longer serve ourselves. One finds an ethical wedge against conscription in an unexpected philosophical locale: the ‘fundamental ontology’ of Heidegger’s Being and Time, where pertinent individual choices arc protectively over what happens post mortem. Heidegger’s perspective on this issue thus meshes, not with other philosophical voices, but with Catholic doctrine—a surprising convergence of atheistic and theistic approaches to our flourishing whose ground I address in the article’s conclusion. (shrink)
As Rutherford acknowledges, there remains much disagreement on basic methodologies for the study of Plato. Briefly put, the dominant view has been that the dialogues present and argue for a range of doctrines, that is, offer us extensive and reliable evidence regarding theories espoused by Plato. Although there are numerous versions of what commentators have labeled the "doctrinal" approach, most generally put they emphasize either development or overall unity. While a second group of interpreters grants that Plato embraced theories, it (...) contends that his views were not promulgated in writing but instead transmitted orally. A third methodology, deeply opposed to the doctrinal stance, emphasizes that the dialogues pose a host of questions. On this view, the primary value of Plato's writings lies here, and in their prompting us to search for answers, rather than in any answers that they themselves allegedly provide. In the process of raising issues Plato may evince some general philosophical commitments, but this is to be distinguished sharply from the presentation of arguments, often interrelated, for philosophical views about the nature of reality, knowledge, and so on. (shrink)
According to Frank, Plato's dialogues offer divergent approaches to literacy: while one method is rigidly top-down, the other promotes learners' independence. She argues that Plato endorses the latter view and that this lens on becoming literate is also the one he favors for our acquisition of knowledge, as well as for ethics and politics. Dismissing the idea that Plato's thought developed, Frank moves without comment from the Republic to works usually deemed to belong to different phases of Plato's writing, both (...) early and late. Because Frank's approach is nondoctrinal, in no dialogue is its main character properly seen as Plato's "mouthpiece".... (shrink)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Journal of the History of Philosophy 44.3 (2006) 467-468 [Access article in PDF] Richard Hunter. Plato's "Symposium". New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Pp. xiii + 150. Cloth, $40.00. Paper, $14.95. The editors of the series in which Plato's "Symposium" appears state that its constituent texts are to be "essays in criticism and interpretation that will do justice to the subtlety and complexity of the works under discussion" (vi). (...) In the preface, Hunter identifies as his audience "those who have already read or are in the process of reading the Symposium" (ix).Plato's "Symposium" has much to offer to classics students and to the general reader. The book provides useful literary and cultural background regarding the conduct of Greek symposia (5–15). It is filled with valuable interpretive remarks, as for example when Hunter proposes that Alcibiades' depiction of Socrates "as a carved Silenus" instantiates a "common form of sympotic verbal game, the 'likeness'—'Why is X (usually one of the symposiasts) like Y (usually something nonhuman)?'" (5–6). Hunter's rich knowledge of Greek literature pays off in a range of ways, as for instance in his remarks on literary articulations of erôs (16–18). The volume's final chapter, on the history of the dialogue's reception, offers a number of figures and contexts on which to reflect.Hunter makes helpful observations regarding the seriocomic and special features of Plato's recourse to it (9–11), noting that, "in the attack upon the spoudaiogeloion, it is the spoudaiogeloion itself which is the principal weapon" (36). Hunter's orientation in this regard yields nuanced interpretations of the logoi of Pausanias and Eryximachus. Hunter observes helpfully that Aristophanes' encomium functions as "an example of a very familiar aspect of the technique of Aristophanic comedy, namely, the literalization of metaphorical language (as, for example, when 'weighing up' poetry becomes a matter of real weighing in the Frogs)" (65). In Hunter's view, Agathon's contribution, in turn, illustrates Plato's contention in the Gorgias that tragedy is a type of flattery (kolakeia). Drawing on Aristophanes' Women at the Thesmophoria, Hunter makes the useful suggestion that the comic poet's depiction "can... help to explain the extravagance of the Platonic character's speech" (76).While Plato's "Symposium" will also provide valuable background to students of philosophy, on its own the book does not do justice to Socrates' encomium, in particular the crucial "ascent passage" (210a–12a). A key point of contention among philosophical interpreters of the Symposium is whether one is to read the ascent passage as "inclusive" or "exclusive" regarding erôs as directed toward individuals. (For the formulation of the controversy in these terms, see J. M. E. Moravcsik, "Reason and Eros in the 'Ascent'-Passage of the Symposium," in Essays in Ancient Greek Philosophy, eds. Anton and Kustas , 293.) The strongly exclusivist stance has had a number of exponents and is most famously associated with Gregory Vlastos (see "The Individual as an Object of Love in Plato," in Platonic Studies, 2nd ed. , 31). For a contrasting view, one may consult, for example, John Brentlinger, according to whom "it does not follow from Plato's claim that we love persons (or anything else) because we believe them to be beautiful and good, that we really love the properties of beauty and goodness per se, and do not really love persons per se" (The "Symposium" of Plato , 122; see also C. J. Rowe, Plato: "Symposium" , 7). Hunter states that the Symposium's "apparent rejection of the value of lasting love between individuals has often seemed to modern readers to present a harshly intellectual view of erôs which ignores basic, [End Page 467] universal facts of human experience and which offers little comfort to all but a Socrates" (98). It will not, I think, be evident to readers not already familiar with pertinent philosophical literature on the ascent to just what interpretive debate this remark is (at most) a glancing gesture.Hunter quotes Symposium 210d, where Plato says that the... (shrink)