Philosophy & Technology

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 339–356 | Cite as

Enhancement and the Conservative Bias

  • Ben DaviesEmail author
Research Article


Nicholas Agar argues that we should avoid certain ‘radical’ enhancement technologies. One reason for this is that they will alienate us from current sources of value by altering our evaluative outlooks. We should avoid this, even if enhancing will provide us with novel, objectively better sources of value. After noting the parallel between Agar’s views and G. A. Cohen’s work on the ‘conservative bias’, I explore Agar’s suggestion in relation to two kinds of radical enhancement: cognitive and anti-ageing. With regard to both, there are reasons to doubt Agar’s empirical predictions about the severity of the evaluative changes we will undergo. Nonetheless, there is some force to the argument as applied to cognitive enhancement; in particular, radical cognitive enhancement may endanger our current valuable relationships with our loved ones. However, even if we find this a plausible worry for radical cognitive enhancement, it is not plausible for even radical anti-ageing enhancement, because the change Agar predicts will not affect our core motivations in the way that cognitive enhancement threatens to.


Human enhancement Conservatism Value Cognitive enhancement Ageing 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


  1. Agar, N. (2004). Liberal eugenics: in defence of human enhancement. Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Agar, N. (2010). Humanity’s end: why we should reject radical enhancement. Cambridge: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Agar, N. (2013). Truly human enhancement: a philosophical defense of limits. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bhattacharya, A., & Simpson, R. M. (2014). Life in overabundance: Agar on life-extension and the fear of death. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 17(2), 223–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bradley, B. (2009). Well-being and death. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Buchanan, A. (2012). Better than human: the promise and perils of enhancing ourselves. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Cohen, G. A. (2011). Rescuing conservatism: a defence of existing value. In R. J. Wallace, R. Kumar, & S. Freeman (Eds.), Reasons and recognition: essays on the philosophy of T.M. Scanlon (pp. 203–230). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cohen, G. A. (2012). Rescuing conservatism: a defence of existing value (all souls version). In M. Otsuka (Ed.), Finding oneself in the other (pp. 143–174). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Danaher, J. (Forthcoming). An evaluative conservative case for biomedical enhancement. Journal of Medical Ethics.Google Scholar
  10. De Grey, A. (2004). Escape velocity: why the prospect of extreme human life extension matters now. PLoS Biology, 2(6), 723–726.Google Scholar
  11. Elliott, C. (2003). Better than well: American medicine meets the American dream. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  12. Hauskeller, M. (2011). Human enhancement and the giftedness of life. Philosophical Papers, 40(1), 55–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hauskeller, M. (2013). Better humans? Understanding the enhancement project. Durham: Acumen.Google Scholar
  14. Kolodny, N. (2003). Love as valuing a relationship. Philosophical Review, 112(2), 135–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Levy, N. (2011). Enhancing authenticity. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 28(3), 308–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. MacIntyre, A. (2007). After virtue: a study in moral theory (3rd ed.). Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  17. Powell, R. (2015). In genes we trust: germline engineering, eugenics, and the future of the human genome. The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 40(6), 669–695.Google Scholar
  18. Pugh, J., Kahane, G., & Savulescu, J. (2013). Cohen’s conservatism and human enhancement. The Journal of Ethics, 17(4), 331–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Slovic, P. (1987). Perception of risk. Science, 236(4799), 280–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgement under uncertainty: heuristics and biases. Science, New Series, 185(4157), 1124–1131.Google Scholar
  21. Weinstein, N. D. (1987). Unrealistic optimism about susceptibility to health problems: conclusions from a community-wide sample. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 10(5), 481–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Williams, B. (1973). The Makropulos case: reflections on the tedium of immortality. Problems of the Self (pp 82–100). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBloomsburg University of PennsylvaniaBloomsburgUSA

Personalised recommendations