Incentivized goodness


It will be argued that humans have a rational self-interest in voluntarily opting to subject themselves to moral bioenhancement. This interest is based on the fact that goodness appears to be conducive to happiness. Those who understand that will be more inclined to opt for safe and effective moral bioenhancement technologies that have the potential to augment our motivation to become better. The more people decide to follow this path, the likelier it is that states will adopt suitable policies that incentivize moral bioenhancement. Hence, goodness, happiness and state incentivized moral bioenhancement can operate in a circularly supportive fashion.

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  1. 1.

    In some of their later writings, Persson and Savulescu do not take a clear stance on whether MBE ought to become mandatory (e.g., Persson and Savulescu 2012). Still, they have never distanced themselves from their initial view that MBE ought to be made compulsory to all. Ostensibly, compulsory moral enhancement is required to avoid UH. However, given the value of freedom, autonomy, and for obvious political reasons, it would clearly be better to find another way to promote moral enhancement that does not require paternalistic measures. In this paper, I defend an alternative conception of implementing an MBE program that would, I submit, have just that effect.

  2. 2.

    “Practical” is used here as an antonym of “theoretical”. The meaning of “practically superfluous” comes close to “functionally superfluous”. It denotes something that is inoperative.

  3. 3.

    For a reply Persson and Savulescu gave to this article, see Persson and Savulescu (2014).

  4. 4.

    Conversely, voluntary MBE leaves our moral reflection intact - precisely because it is voluntary. As long as we have a functioning reasoning capacity and will that are capable of determining what is morally right and wrong, as well as making us act in line with our judgments on this, our moral reflection remains uncompromised.

  5. 5.

    One version of the trolley thought experiment is the following. A runaway trolley is about to kill five people who lie tied up on its track, unable to move. You can help. All you have to do is pull a hand lever to switch tracks, saving the five people. But there is a problem. Someone stands on the sidetrack unto which you can divert the trolley. There is no time to warn him. Hence, by pulling the hand lever and guiding the trolley to safety you will save five people, but at the same time have an active role in killing one person. A variety of complex moral issues arise when we think about which action is the morally justified one to take. A random enhancement of empathy, especially if it results in increased empathy for the person on the sidetrack, will not be of any help in guiding us to the morally right action in this thought experiment. On the other hand, moral reflection might be helpful.

  6. 6.

    Happiness is understood here not as Ancient Greek eudaimonia (good life) but refers to a “thinner” psychological conception denoting a mental state of wellbeing.

  7. 7.

    Although it might be argued that we are more likely to be taken advantage of if we are good, that line of reasoning is just an intuition. Undoubtedly, certain people will on certain occasions be inclined to take advantage of us. But others will not. It is difficult to generalize the notion that we will be more prone to be taken advantage of if we are good. One of the remedies against advantage takers is cognitive competency. Cognitive enhancement contributes therefore to moral enhancement. But it is not enough because we frequently do not act as we believe we ought to. Consequently, moral enhancement is something humans are also in need of.

  8. 8.

    It is also possible to argue that VMBE at a collective level might operate as follows: some people would voluntarily opt for MBE, this would have an impact on others, and the “snowball effect” would lead to ever more people pursuing ever more dramatic forms of enhancement. It would be a kind of “slippery slope in reverse”. I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer for this idea, although we agree that there is no evidence for the assumption that such a process would actually take place. However, the conception of VMBE does not need to assume that people will pursue ever more dramatic forms of enhancement. As it is not grounded on the objective of UH prevention, modest forms of moral enhancement contributing to an increase in human happiness and general wellbeing are also good enough.


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Rakić, V. Incentivized goodness. Med Health Care and Philos 21, 303–309 (2018).

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  • Moral bioenhancement
  • Incentivized goodness
  • Happiness
  • Freedom
  • Moral reflection
  • Ultimate harm
  • Self-interest
  • State incentives
  • Circularly supportive mechanism