Hyperagency and the Good Life – Does Extreme Enhancement Threaten Meaning?

Abstract

According to several authors, the enhancement project incorporates a quest for hyperagency - i.e. a state of affairs in which virtually every constitutive aspect of agency (beliefs, desires, moods, dispositions and so forth) is subject to our control and manipulation. This quest, it is claimed, undermines the conditions for a meaningful and worthwhile life. Thus, the enhancement project ought to be forestalled or rejected. How credible is this objection? In this article, I argue: “not very”. I do so by evaluating four different versions of the “hyperagency” objection from four different authors. In each case I argue that the objection either fails outright or, at best, provides weak and defeasible grounds for avoiding enhancement. In addition to this, I argue that there are plausible grounds for thinking that enhancement helps, rather than hinders, us in living the good life.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This follows, roughly, the definition offered by Buchanan [1] p. 23.

  2. 2.

    Contrary to Pacholczyk and Harris [2].

  3. 3.

    Hauskeller, M. [3] uses the term “project”.

  4. 4.

    Buchanan, A. [1] uses the term “enterprise”.

  5. 5.

    Danaher [4]

  6. 6.

    Owens [5]

  7. 7.

    Owens [5], p. 176

  8. 8.

    As we’ll see below, both Michael Hauskeller’s version of the objection can be run merely from the desire or pursuit of hyperagency.

  9. 9.

    I have a separate, forthcoming article that deals with this set of objections.

  10. 10.

    Smuts, [6]; and Metz [7]

  11. 11.

    Wolf [8]

  12. 12.

    Owens [5] disclaims any view about whether there is, in fact, meaning in life, or whether meaning in life is entirely subjective, but he does invoke the desire-fulfillment standard throughout his article, so I think my interpretation here is fair.

  13. 13.

    See Taylor, R. ([9] – reprint). Taylor later abandoned this view, but see Bruckner, D. [10] for an updated defence.

  14. 14.

    See Wielenberg, E. [11] and the grinning excrement eater objection. Also, Smuts, [6].

  15. 15.

    Owens [5], p. 176

  16. 16.

    Owens [5], p. 173-174

  17. 17.

    Owens [5], p. 177.

  18. 18.

    Owens [5], p. 177

  19. 19.

    It should be noted that C.S. Lewis made a very similar claim in his essay The Abolition of Man. See Lewis [12]

  20. 20.

    Wielenberg [11] and Smuts [6]

  21. 21.

    Nagel [13]

  22. 22.

    Summarised in Schwartz [14]

  23. 23.

    Nagel [13] p. 112.

  24. 24.

    Scheibehenne, B., Greifeneder, R. and Todd, P.M. [15].

  25. 25.

    Scheibehenne, B., Greifeneder, R. and Todd, P.M. [15], at 418.

  26. 26.

    References for the modulating factors discussed in this paragraph can be found in Scheibehenne et al [15], pp. 419–421.

  27. 27.

    Information can be measured formally as the entropy of a choice set, which can be increased in ways other than by adding more choices.

  28. 28.

    A maximiser is someone who looks to maximise expected utility in any given choice set; a satisficer is someone who looks to cross an acceptability threshold in any given choice set. The term “satisficing” was introduced by Herbert Simon.

  29. 29.

    Additionally, Scheibehenne et al [15] note that perceptions of quality can have an impact: if the choice set is deemed to be of low overall quality, an increased number of options is welcome, but not when it is of high quality. They also note that studies on the phenomenon may be ignoring the pleasure people experience by experimenting with something, even if they don’t ultimately like it.

  30. 30.

    Nagel [13], p. 113

  31. 31.

    Roese, N. J. and Somerville, A. [16]; and Beike, DR, Markman, KD and Karadogan, F. [17]

  32. 32.

    I have separate forthcoming article dealing with this issue.

  33. 33.

    Vincent [18] argues for the thesis at great length. It also provides the impetus for the ongoing “Enhancing Responsibility” project. See http://enhancingresponsibility.com/ (visited 1/12/13)

  34. 34.

    I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer for bringing this objection to my attention.

  35. 35.

    Danaher [4]

  36. 36.

    The argument can be found in Hauskeller [19] and [3], chapter 10.

  37. 37.

    The goodness or benefit of the gifted is a key part of Hauskeller’s argument. See Hauskeller [19], p. 62 ff.

  38. 38.

    The other concerns the impact on social solidarity, which I will deal with in a separate paper on this topic. Omitted.

  39. 39.

    Bostrom [20]

  40. 40.

    Bostrom [20], p. 112

  41. 41.

    Hauskeller [3], p.177

  42. 42.

    Kamm [21]

  43. 43.

    Hauskeller [3], p. 180. I have doctored the original text somewhat. Kamm’s argument was originally made in response to Sandel, and so Hauskeller refers to Sandel’s claims in his discussion. But since Hauskeller is trying to defend Sandel’s argument, I take it that attributing those arguments to him is not an unfair distortion of his response to Kamm.

  44. 44.

    I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer for pressing me on this point.

  45. 45.

    Nagel [22]

  46. 46.

    Nagel [22], p. 718.

  47. 47.

    Nagel [22], pp. 719–720

  48. 48.

    Nagel [22], pp. 720.

  49. 49.

    Smuts, [6]

  50. 50.

    Smuts, [6] - comments on Wolf’s Fitting Fulfillment theory.

  51. 51.

    It’s clear that Smuts’s rejects this account too.

  52. 52.

    See Metz [23] for an early presentation. The version I discuss in the text comes from Metz [24]. It also features in Metz [25].

  53. 53.

    He defines it [24] as a condition of existence that is responsible for many other conditions.

  54. 54.

    For what it is worth, Metz [26] says some positive things about transhumanism.

  55. 55.

    Metz [24], particularly the comments on morality and intellectual sophistication.

  56. 56.

    Douglas [27].

  57. 57.

    I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer on an earlier draft of this article for encouraging me to make this latter point.

  58. 58.

    I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer for drawing this objection to my attention.

  59. 59.

    Metz [25], chapter 2, looks at the argument between what he calls “pure whole lifers” (i.e. those who think meaning is a property of the whole life) and “pure part lifers” (i.e. those who think meaning is a property of the parts of a life). In the end, Metz endorses a mixed view, which says that “what matters in life are both its parts and their overall relationship to one another” (p. 51).

  60. 60.

    Metz [25], pp. 38-49 reviews some of the literature.

  61. 61.

    See, however, Erler, [28] for a more detailed discussion of the role of memory and memory dampening in the “authentic life”.

  62. 62.

    Metz [25] p. 51–52 endorses this view.

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Brian Earp and two anonymous referees for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

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Correspondence to John Danaher.

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Danaher, J. Hyperagency and the Good Life – Does Extreme Enhancement Threaten Meaning?. Neuroethics 7, 227–242 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-013-9200-1

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Keywords

  • Enhancement
  • Hyperagency
  • Meaning of Life
  • Human Flourishing
  • Well-being