Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 9–27 | Cite as

The new enhancement technologies and the place of vulnerability in our lives

  • John G. QuilterEmail author


What is the place of vulnerability in our lives? The current debate about the ethics of enhancement technologies provides a context in which to think about this question. In my view, the current debate is likely to be fruitless, largely because we bring the wrong ethical resources to bear on its questions. In this article, I recall an important, but currently neglected, role that moral concepts play in our thinking, a role they should especially play in relation to the introduction of new technologies. I call this the ‘contemplative role of moral concepts’. I then contrast two approaches to the contemplative role of moral concepts which are found in the current literature, and show why it is important to keep in mind both of these approaches when thinking about human vulnerability.


Vulnerability Enhancement Moral concepts Ethics of flourishing Ethics of renunciation 


  1. 1.
    Bostrom, Nick, and Julian Savulescu. 2009. Human enhancement ethics: The state of the debate. In Human enhancement, ed. Nick Bostrom and Julian Savulescu, 1–22. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Dancy, Jonathon. 2006. Ethics without principles. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Doctrine of the Faith (Roman Catholic Church). 1987. Donum vitae: Instruction on respect for human life in its origin and on the dignity of procreation: replies to certain questions of the day. Vatican City: Vatican Publishing House.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Maclean, Anne. 1993. The elimination of morality: Reflections on utilitarianism and bioethics. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Gaita, Raimond. 2004. Good and evil, an absolute conception. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Mulhall, Stephen. 2012. The work of saintly love: The religious impulse in Gaita’s writing. In Philosophy, ethics and a common humanity, ed. Christopher Cordner, 21–36. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Padden, Carol A., and Tom L. Humphries. 2006. Inside deaf culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Kraybill, Donald B., Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher. 2012. The Amish way: Patient faith in a perilous world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Kraybill, Donald B. 2001. The riddle of Amish culture. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Sandel, Michael J. 2009. The case against perfection: Ethics in the age of genetic engineering. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Kamm, Frances. 2005. Is there a problem with enhancement? American Journal of Bioethics 5: 5–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PhilosophyAustralian Catholic UniversityStrathfieldAustralia

Personalised recommendations