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The perils of failing to enhance: a response to Persson and Savulescu
  1. Elizabeth Fenton
  1. Correspondence to Dr Elizabeth Fenton, Harvard University Program in Ethics and Health, 641 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA; Elizabeth_fenton{at}


Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu argue that non-traditional forms of cognitive enhancement (those involving genetic engineering or pharmaceuticals) present a serious threat to humanity, since the fruits of such enhancement, accelerated scientific progress, will give the morally corrupt minority of humanity new and more effective ways to cause great harm. And yet it is scientific progress, accelerated by non-traditional cognitive enhancement, which could allow us to dramatically morally enhance human beings, thereby eliminating, or at least reducing, the threat from the morally corrupt minority. I argue that this apparently intractable dilemma is less difficult to resolve than Persson and Savulescu suppose. Their analysis of non-traditional cognitive enhancement overstates the risks and undervalues the benefits that such enhancement might provide. Once the benefits are better described, it is clear that non-traditional cognitive enhancement could be the means of our survival, not of our destruction.

  • Cognitive enhancement
  • moral enhancement
  • scientific progress

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed

  • i Or at least, no way of achieving this progress through the use of enhancement technology, which is the form of moral progress with which Persson and Savulescu are concerned. This does not of course rule out other ways in which moral progress has been and will continue to be achieved. The birth and growth of the international human rights movement is one example of moral progress that was not effected by means of genetic or biological enhancement.

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