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Reply to commentators on Unfit for the Future
  1. Ingmar Persson1,
  2. Julian Savulescu2
  1. 1Department of Philosophy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
  2. 2Faculty of Philosophy, The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Julian Savulescu, Faculty of Philosophy, The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Suite 8, Littlegate House, Oxford OX1 1PT, UK; julian.savulescu{at}philosophy.ox.ac.uk

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We are very grateful to Nick Agar,1 Tom Beauchamp2 and Paula Casal3 for their perceptive and searching comments on our book Unfit for the Future.4 The issues to which we would like to respond are the following:

  1. What precisely is moral bioenhancement—moral enhancement by biomedical means—supposed to enhance?

  2. To what degree is humankind supposed to be morally bioenhanced?

  3. Can moral bioenhancement be effective or reliably achieve its goals?

  4. Is not the uncertainty about the possibility of moral bioenhancement so great that techniques of it cannot be safely applied?

The target of moral bioenhancement

As Beauchamp notes, we write that ‘the core moral dispositions, which are the foremost objects of moral enhancement, are altruism and a sense of justice’ (p. 108).4 He complains that we do not say precisely how we understand these dispositions and why we focus on them to the exclusion of others, like benevolence and respectfulness. But we do something to clarify the notion of altruism. We claim that it involves (a) empathy in the sense of ‘a capacity to imagine from the inside what it would be like to be another conscious subject’, and (b) ‘sympathetic concern about the well-being of this subject for its own sake’ (p. 109).4 In virtue of including (b), we take altruism to include benevolence. So conceived altruism is obviously central to morality, since morality requires the setting aside of our own interests for the sake of others, though to what precise extent is a matter of controversy. Consequently, the extent to which the disposition of altruism should be enhanced is also a matter of controversy. As regards respectfulness, we do not view it as an attitude that is necessarily or essentially moral, since people often adopt it towards highly improper objects, such as ruthless dictators.

We concede, however, that …

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