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The Moral Agency Argument Against Moral Bioenhancement

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It is often contended that certain enhancement technologies are acceptable, because they simply update traditional ways of pursuing the improvement of human capacities. This is not true with reference to moral bioenhancement, because of the radical difference between traditional and biotechnological ways of producing moral progress. These latter risk having serious negative effects on our moral agency, by causing a substantial loss of freedom and capacity of authentic moral behaviour, by affecting our moral identity and by imposing a standard conception of moral personality.

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    This is a most powerful computer that will be able to modify the beliefs, desires and intentions of human individuals so as to prevent them from performing gravely immoral actions.

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    It must be noted, however, that Douglas’ discourse is limited to interventions aimed to increase one’s moral conformity, not the moral conformity of others. For a discussion of this proposal, see the paragraph Autonomous MBE.

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    On such pessimism, it is sufficient to recall that, according to Persson and Savulescu, “We may not have yet reached the state in which a single satanic character could eradicate all life on Earth, but with cognitive enhancement by traditional means alone, we may soon be there. […] With biomedical and genetic enhancement of our cognitive powers we may be even closer to the invention of such monsters or other as yet unimagined demons.” (2008, p. 167). And Mark Walker justifies the urge for genetically engineering virtues by remarking that “no amount of exertion in this direction [i.e., traditional moral education] promises to make progress against a long-standing source of pessimism in ethics: human nature” (2009, p. 28).

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    Including, most notably, John Harris himself (see Harris 2007, pp. 57–58).


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Correspondence to Massimo Reichlin.

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Reichlin, M. The Moral Agency Argument Against Moral Bioenhancement. Topoi 38, 53–62 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-017-9471-y

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  • Moral bioenhancement
  • Freedom
  • Moral agency
  • Moral identity
  • Cognitive enhancement