What do we need if we need moral enhancement?

Since the start of the moral enhancement debate in 2008, longtime human enhancement advocates Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu have argued that we urgently need to be morally enhanced. The capacities natural selection has endowed humans with may have served the species adequately in the past, but the coupling of our moral psychology with advanced technologies spells disaster. The point was elaborated in Persson & Savulescu’s 2012 book, Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement. Curiously, before the moral enhancement debate it was standard for human enhancement proponents to advocate for intelligence enhancements as a “golden standard”, an example of an enhancement that could benefit any life plan. However, Persson and Savulescu now argue that intelligence enhancements are not that desirable since they may further increase the gap between our ability to cause great harm and our outdated moral psychology. For the same reason, fast technological progress was typically heralded as a harbinger of hope among the pro-enhancement crew, while Persson and Savulescu have since argued that the risks of new technologies often outweigh the gains. As a positive outcome of these provocative stances, the discussion has since spurred many enhancement proponents to spell out more clearly which enhancements they deem valuable, and why.

The bulk of the subsequent criticism that the book received echoed the criticism their argument had received in the preceding years, such as, worries about totalitarianism. Persson and Savulescu, worried about the fact that certain technologies make it possible for single individuals to cause global disasters, argue for restrictions to privacy and citizen liberties. However, their preference for liberal democracy over totalitarianism is precisely why they endorse moral enhancement: they believe the only way to ensure safety within a liberal democracy with the currently available technology is to improve the moral psychology of the citizens. They argue that we should research possibilities for doing so biomedically, since they are unimpressed with the track record of conventional education.

In this blog post, I won’t say much about the technological feasibility of moral enhancement, the probability of global catastrophe, or about the ethical problems concerning mass enhancement, such as whether people can be obligated to undergo enhancements. My focus will be on the concept of moral enhancement as used by Persson and Savulescu: what do we need if we need moral enhancement? What changes in human abilities are they advocating, and how are these changes moral enhancements?

Continue reading What do we need if we need moral enhancement?

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Accounting for the Relationship of Autonomy and Ability

I gave a presentation, provocatively titled “Does Disability Decrease Autonomy?”, at the Justice and Political Psychology symposium (University of Turku, October 15th through 16th). My aim was to sketch out the kinds of abilities that individual-centered, rationality-based accounts of autonomy present as prerequisites for the capacity for autonomy, and then to problematise that taxonomy from the point of view of relational autonomy.

Continue reading Accounting for the Relationship of Autonomy and Ability

Self-Control: Only All Good for the Privileged

Whether it’s getting an education, improving your dietary habits, getting some exercise or going for improved efficiency, altering your life begins and ends with self-control. But for some, this comes at a steep price.

For life hackers, it’s about making the changes as efficient as possible: reaping maximum benefits for minimum efforts. For members of the quantified self movement, it’s about monitoring yourself in order to create a scheme of self-improvement tailored to your body and your needs. For the average reader of the self-help article in a magazine, it might just be about quitting smoking or getting the laundry done.

Self-help gurus agree that the best way to change one’s life is the one that doesn’t require more self-control than necessary. Indeed, many have grown to view self-control as a finite resource, and the phenomenon of “running out of it” has a term of its own: ego depletion. For this reason, habit formation is encouraged: once you’re accustomed to a certain way of acting, you no longer need to push yourself to do it. It gets easy. One caveat though – for that habit to be formed, it’s that much more important that self-control is maintained during the first three(ish) weeks that it takes to instil a new habit.

But while most address self-control as an internal property of people – one that can be learned and cultivated, but a property of the person, nonetheless – there’s a factor to it that is often overlooked: money.

Continue reading Self-Control: Only All Good for the Privileged

To Prove a Point: Trans* Narratives in Philosophical Writing, part II – a How-To!

The first part of this post can be found here.

Here are a few pointers as to how to use trans* examples in philosophy. They draw from Jacob Hale’s Suggested Rules from the 90’s, which remain relevant despite the dated terminology.

Seven Tips for Proving a Point with a Little Help from Trans*people
(without our heads getting bruised from all the headdesking)

Continue reading To Prove a Point: Trans* Narratives in Philosophical Writing, part II – a How-To!

Great Beginnings

Plenty of ink has been spilled over the first lines of literary masterpieces. It appears every great novel has an equally epic opening line. I was inspired to check how some central works in contemporary analytic philosophy fare in the art of beginning.

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice
“In this introductory chapter I sketch some of the main ideas of the theory of justice I wish to develop.”
Rawls is not even trying. I presume he has pareto optimal reasons not to.

Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature
“Philosophers usually think of their discipline as one which discusses perennial, eternal problems–problems which arise as soon as one reflects.”
Generic, but promising.

Robert Nozick: Anarchy, State, and Utopia
“Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights).”
Well, that’s an attempt. I’m not sure whether I should add or subtract points for using parentheses within the first full sentence of a text.

And the winner is…
Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons
“Like my cat, I often simply do what I want to do.”
Full points for this one. Cat mentioned within the first three words. That’s hard to beat.