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What to Enhance: Behaviour, Emotion or Disposition?

Abstract

As we learn more about the human brain, novel biotechnological means to modulate human behaviour and emotional dispositions become possible. These technologies could be used to enhance our morality. Moral bioenhancement, an instance of human enhancement, alters a person’s dispositions, emotions or behaviour in order to make that person more moral. I will argue that moral bioenhancement could be carried out in three different ways. The first strategy, well known from science fiction, is behavioural enhancement. The second strategy, favoured by prominent defenders of moral bioenhancement, is emotional enhancement. The third strategy is the enhancement of moral dispositions, such as empathy and inequity aversion. I will argue that we ought to implement a combination of the second and third strategies. Furthermore, I will argue that the usual arguments against other instances of human enhancement do not apply to moral bioenhancement, or apply only to the first strategy, behavioural enhancement.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Of course any psychological change also affects the underlying physiology of the person so affected.

  2. 2.

    Some instances of cognitive behaviour therapy would here qualify as “moral education”.

  3. 3.

    Pathological cases might include patients with brain injury, brain tumours, and cases with severe deficiencies in critical neurotransmitters or people suffering from grave hormonal imbalances.

  4. 4.

    Whether or not personality disorders, such as antisocial personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder, are pathologies is a matter of debate. I will leave this question open.

  5. 5.

    An existential disaster is defined as an event that would drastically and permanently curtail the potential of terrestrial intelligence. [6], pp 1–27.

  6. 6.

    It should be noted that his views are not uncontroversial. See Cordelia Fine’s book Delusions of Gender for a review [23].

  7. 7.

    For a counter-argument, see [44] and [3] for a response.

  8. 8.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 7—The Virtues, I. The human virtues: number 1827, http://www.catholicdoors.com/catechis/cat1803.htm.

  9. 9.

    However, it should be noted that not all Aristotelian philosophers agree that effort is a necessary aspect of true virtue.

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Correspondence to Karim Jebari.

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Jebari, K. What to Enhance: Behaviour, Emotion or Disposition?. Neuroethics 7, 253–261 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-014-9204-5

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Keywords

  • Human enhancement
  • Moral bioenhancement
  • Freedom
  • Neuroethics
  • Empathy