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Moral bioenhancement is dangerous
  1. Nicholas Agar
  1. Philosophy Programme, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Dr Nicholas Agar, Philosophy Programme, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 4001, New Zealand; nicholas.agar{at}vuw.ac.nz

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Unfit for the Future packs a powerful punch for a short book. In this commentary I respond to the book's case for moral bioenhancement (MB). Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu understand MB as using ‘pharmacological and genetic methods, like genetic selection and engineering’ (p. 2)1 to improve moral motivation. They say “Modern scientific technology provides us with many means that could cause our downfall. If we are to avoid causing catastrophe by misguided employment of these means, we need to be morally motivated to a higher degree” (p. 8).1 They present MB as necessary to avoid Ultimate Harm, an event that would make ‘worthwhile life forever impossible on this planet’ (p. 46).1 The instrument of Ultimate Harm that features most prominently in their discussion of MB is the climate crisis. Persson and Savulescu believe that normal human capacities for sympathy and justice may not suffice to properly address climate change.

I argue that MB is considerably more dangerous than Persson and Savulescu suppose. Moral worsenings are the almost inevitable result of attempts to significantly improve moral motivation by biomedical means.

The danger of unbalanced excesses in moral thinking

There is nothing philosophically incoherent in bioenhancements that enable a morally superior response to the climate crisis. We can imagine biomedical interventions that remodel our moral psychologies to exactly resemble that of a committed environmental activist such as Rachel Carson or David Suzuki. Perhaps these would give us the largeness of vision both to properly appreciate dangers posed by climate change and to remove obstacles to effective collective action.

MB is perilous not because of the end that is sought, but instead because of the way that moral bioenhancers will almost certainly work. There are unlikely to be any pills or injections that directly produce in us morally superior judgments or motivations. Moral bioenhancers will achieve that …

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