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The Morality of Moral Neuroenhancement

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Handbook of Neuroethics

Abstract

This chapter reviews recent philosophical literature on the morality of moral enhancement. It first briefly outlines the main moral arguments that have been made concerning moral status neuroenhancements: neurointerventions that would augment the moral status of human persons. It then surveys recent debate regarding moral desirability neuroenhancements: neurointerventions that augment that the moral desirability of human character traits, motives, or conduct. This debate has contested, among other claims, (i) Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu’s contention that there is a moral imperative to pursue the development of moral desirability neuroenhancements, (ii) Thomas Douglas’ claim that voluntarily undergoing moral desirability neuroenhancements would often be morally permissible, and (iii) David DeGrazia’s claim that moral desirability neuroenhancements would often be morally desirable. The chapter discusses a number of concerns that have been raised regarding moral desirability neuroenhancements, including concerns that they would restrict freedom; would produce only a superficial kind of moral improvement; would rely on technologies that are liable to be misused; and would frequently misfire, resulting in moral deterioration rather than moral improvement.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Each of these authors relies to some extent on an inductive inference, most fully spelled out by Agar (2012a): observed differences in mental capacity generate differences in moral status, and unobserved differences in mental capacity, between us and mentally enhanced beings, could be at least as great; thus we should expect that these too will give rise to differences in moral status. David Wasserman (2012) has recently offered an inductive argument militating in the opposite direction. He notes that the development of civilization, for example, from feudalism to contemporary social arrangements, has tended to elide distinctions in moral status so that we now accept fewer tiers of moral status than previously. If we assume that this is due to moral-epistemic progress, then we might infer that we are in the process of converging on a correct view of moral status that accepts very few tiers of moral status (perhaps simply a binary view that entities either have moral status or not). Such a view might render implausible the claim that mentally enhanced beings could have greater moral status than us.

  2. 2.

    Persson and Savulescu (2011b, p. 4) do allow that one might contribute to an indefinitely large benefit by preventing someone else from causing ultimate harm, something that technological progress might allow. However, they argue that, in that sort of case, one would not be guaranteeing an indefinitely large benefit, because someone else (or a natural disaster) might cause ultimate harm. By contrast, when one causes ultimate harm, one does guarantee an indefinitely bad harm.

  3. 3.

    Elster (2011) and Douglas and Devolder (forthcoming) have also defended ethical principles which imply that parents would typically have significant moral reasons to engage in such selection.

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Douglas, T. (2015). The Morality of Moral Neuroenhancement. In: Clausen, J., Levy, N. (eds) Handbook of Neuroethics. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-4707-4_92

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