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Bioenhancement of morality
Bioenhancement of morality
Bert Gordijn 0
Henk ten Have 0
Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland
0 Relationship between morality and its biological substrate
1 Bert Gordijn
In the last 10 years the idea of enhancing morality with medical means has been the subject matter of some academic debate. This technological approach to moral improvement is predicated on a number of suppositions. We are mentioning just four suppositions without any ambition of being exhaustive. The first hypothesis is that morality has a biological substrate. The second is that the relationship between morality and its biological substrate can be known in sufficient detail to suggest potential pathways whereby the latter could be changed in order to improve the former. The third supposition holds that technological interventions can be developed to achieve the desired biological change as well as the concomitant moral improvement effectively without too much side effects. The last assumption mentioned here is that there are real world contexts, within which the medical moral enhancers could actually be applied to positive effect. More analysis is needed in relation to these assumptions in order to explore whether the prospect of moral bioenhancement should be taken seriously.
The idea that morality has a biological substrate hinges on a
particular view of the relationship between body and mind,
a topic with a long history within philosophy. On a very
basic level the biological substrate view holds that
biology is a sine qua non of morality. It goes without saying
Assuming that morality has an organic substrate, the next
question would be whether we can advance our knowledge
of the way in which morality is hardwired in biology to the
extent that we uncover pathways, whereby morality could
be improved through medical interventions. Obviously
much would depend on the precise target of moral
improvement. Would the improvement pertain to character traits,
intentions, moral deliberation, practical wisdom, behaviour,
willpower, sense of responsibility or some other element of
individual morality? In addition, it would be important to
know whether the improvement is transitory or permanent.
Even if we had discovered a biological pathway of moral
enhancement that does not mean automatically that
effective technological means could be developed to accomplish
the biological change and the attendant moral
improvement effectively. It would be important to compare
proposed moral bioenhancements with more traditional means
of moral enhancement such as education, social pressure,
legal sanctions and the like. It would also be critical to
study any side effects that might occur as a result of
bioenhancement of morality so as to guarantee proportionality of
benefits and harms. The development of these interventions
seems hard to imagine without systematic clinical trials.
However, would the pharmaceutical industry be inclined
to invest in this undertaking without solid indications of a
viable market? Would research ethics committees accept
protocols for experiments required for the development of
these interventions? Would anybody sign up as participant
in these experiments?
Real world contexts
Last but not least, in order for moral bioenhancement to
be taken seriously as a potential future technology, it is
required that moral bioenhancement could actually be
applied within the real world in addition to solely figuring
as a philosophical gadget in thought experiments. So in
what kind of factual scenarios would bioenhancement of
morality be likely to occur? Should we imagine moral
enhancement on a voluntary basis, or would mandatory
schemes be more appropriate? Should the state pay for the
costs of moral enhancement or would private citizens have
to account for it?
In order for the debate to gain maturity it might be useful
to critically address the above-mentioned four suppositions
and their attendant questions. In this issue some of those
issues are being tackled.
argues that the
compulsory administration of oxytocin would be ineffective.
analyses the debate on moral
enhancement through the lens of theories from
philosophers such as Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida and MacIntyre.
Rakić , V. 2017 . Compulsory administration of oxytocin does not result in genuine moral enhancement . Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy. doi:10.1007/s11019-017-9762-5.
Swazo , N. K. 2017 . “ Unnatural” thoughts? On moral enhancement of the human animal . Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy. doi:10.1007/s11019-017-9758-1.