During the previous years, Harris Wiseman has devoted substantial attention to my stance on voluntary moral bioenhancement. He argued that he has been influenced by that position, but nonetheless criticized it. I haven’t replied to his criticisms yet and wish to do so now. One of the reasons is to avoid my position being misrepresented. By replying to Wiseman’s criticisms, I also wish to clarify those issues in my standpoint that might have given rise to some of the misinterpretations. With the same purpose in mind, I will demarcate my concept of voluntary moral bioenhancement from related standpoints, in particular from Persson and Savulescu’s notion of compulsory moral bioenhancement that, as I argued, diminishes our freedom (of the will). Furthermore, I will consider the possibility of adding another essential element to my position—one that I have not discussed in my earlier publications. It is designed to propose a novel explanation of why humans would be motivated to opt for voluntary moral bioenhancement if its outcome is not a lowering of the likelihood of “Ultimate Harm” (as defined by Persson and Savulescu) or a milder form of self-destruction of humanity. This explanation will be based on the conception that an increase in happiness, rather than Ultimate Harm prevention, might be the grounding rationale for moral bioenhancement.
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Persson and Savulescu define “Ultimate Harm” as an event or series of events that make worthwhile life on this planet forever impossible (Persson and Savulescu 2012, 46).
Although my critique of Wiseman`s arguments will be ferocious, I would like to thank him for an extremely interesting discussion we had and still have on MBE. This discussion has been stimulated by Wiseman’s ability to develop what is arguably the most cogent critique of MBE until now.
In that sense, the “god machine” differs also from our voluntary decision to take or not to take MBE medication. We can decide to stop the intake of medication. In the case of the “god machine,” we cannot disconnect. When MBE medication is concerned, we are both free to decide to take it and to decide to abandon its use.
A discussion of the findings of the Libet experiment (and later experiments that followed it), according to which we do not have, or hardly have, a “free will”, is obviously beyond the scope of this commentary. For its purposes, it suffices to note that the idea of a “free will,” no matter if reality or an illusion, is essential for our human identity. Hence, bringing it into question is either wrong or detrimental to our human identity.
It deserves notice that the relationship between goodness and happiness differs in this perspective from a utilitarian understanding of goodness as a maximization of happiness. The argument is not that we are good because we maximize happiness, as utilitarians would claim but, conversely, that we are happy because we are good.
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Rakić, V. The Issues of Freedom and Happiness in Moral Bioenhancement: Continuing the Debate With a Reply to Harris Wiseman. Bioethical Inquiry 14, 469–474 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-017-9805-x
- Moral bioenhancement
- Ultimate Harm
- Grounding rationale
- Harris Wiseman