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The perils of post-persons
  1. Robert James Sparrow
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robert Sparrow, Faculty of Arts, School of Philosophy and Bioethics, School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, Faculty of Arts, Monash University, Victoria 3800, Australia; Robert.Sparrow{at}monash.edu

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The willingness of some scientists, futurists … and now philosophers to contemplate—or even actively pursue—their own obsolescence is a source of genuine wonder. Writers such as Hans Moravec,1 Ray Kurzweil2 and Nick Bostrom3 blithely maintain that we will soon be outclassed by our own cybernetic creations as though this were a prospect that could only be celebrated and not feared. In this context, one can only applaud Agar's clearheaded investigation4 of the prospects for creating ‘post-persons’ and his eminently sensible conclusion that there might be good reasons to avoid doing so. His discussion of the significance of the difference between ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ thresholds in moral status and his inductive argument to the existence of higher levels of moral status than humans currently possess constitute significant advances in the philosophical literature on this topic. In these largely sympathetic remarks I will, however, argue both that post-persons are more easily conceived of than Agar suggests and that the threat posed by post-persons, should they eventuate, is greater than Agar allows.

Agar's paper needs to be read in the context of Buchanan's discussion5 of the implications of post-personhood to which it is a response. Buchanan's discussion proceeds, for the most part, with reference to an essentially Kantian account of moral status as founded in the ability to engage in practical reasoning or practices of mutual accountability. Talk of ‘animals’, ‘persons’ …

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