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  • Writer's pictureCrone

Next time...

...I must do better.


We have to do student presentations and last week mine was... well, shit. So, I have been thinking of a good one for this week's course.


I am going to argue that it would be ethical to require that those taking up positions of power in public office (and ideally in commerce!) should have a moral enhancement.


This proposal assumes that moral enhancements are safe and effective. The exact enhancement remains moot for the purposes of this discussion, as there are considerable difficulties in determining exactly which qualities should be enhanced and according to which moral theory - but perhaps an adequate starting point could be conceived as the ability to reason clearly and decide based on principles of respect for autonomy, non maleficence, beneficence and justice.


Let's start with the premises in support of the claim:

P1 It is good to maximise well being, save lives and minimise harms.

P2 Ethical decision making gives reasons for actions that maximise well being, save lives and minimise harms.

P3 Moral agents make ethical decisions.

P4 Most humans are not perfectly moral, but moral enhancements make agents perfectly moral.

P5 People in positions of power make decisions that impact the lives of large numbers of people.

P6 It is good if people in power make ethical decisions.

P7 It is good if people in power are perfectly moral agents.

Therefore, the conclusion is that it is good if people in power have an obligation to be morally enhanced.


If one is to hold that it is NOT ethical for people in power to have an obligation to be morally enhanced, one must have a strong countervailing objection.


One objection could be that moral enhancements per se are not ethical.


This assumes either that enhancements are not ethical, that bioenhancements are not ethical, that moral enhancements are not ethical or that specifically moral bioenhancements are not ethical.


I address enhancements including moral enhancements together. Education, and moral education, is an enhancement, or moral enhancement, and is not just accepted but encouraged and even mandated thus it is not clear that there is any validity to this claim.


Bioenhancements are acceptable in many areas. Caffeine, for example, is a widely used memory enhancement. Athletes can make use of various legal enhancements, such as creatine. Non-clinical patients are regularly prescribed SSRIs to enhance mood and well-being. Likewise, off label use of Ritalin is used as an aid to concentration.


Of course, legal use should not assume moral permissibility.


The benefits of enhancements are clear for individual wellbeing; but in addition there is evidence suggesting an economic benefit to societies were, say, IQ overall increased through enhancement. In addition, there is a strong case that suche enhancements would generate greater progress in science, technology and the humanities, leading to overall greater flourishing. In the case of moral enhancements, the case in favour is stronger as the benefits are less upon the individual than society as a whole.


Where a positional advantage is conferred by the enhancement - such as a cognitive enhancement giving those with access to it a competitive advantage in educational and professional settings - it could be argued that fairness would require that either all or no citizens should have access to the enhancement. So, if the moral enhancement were to be a requisite of all those who could be appointed, a Rawlsian model of justice would require that there was equal access to the enhancement. In this case, however, the enhancement could be given once the individual has been selected or elected, so that such issues of fairness need not apply.


Another objection is that it could be unethical to insist upon such a specific requirement in that it contravenes or fails to respect the autonomy and freedom of the individual. But, if we are to consider like cases alike, this is no more of a imposition or restriction than to demand that a person should have a Child Protection Check or that a person should sign the Official Secrets Act and have certain aspects of their speech restricted.


It is also analogous to the situation of a footballer in a team who is required to attain a certain level of physical fitness during the initial weeks of a contract prior to being declared match fit and participating in competitive games. The footballer will have to restrict and/or monitor food consumption and ensure adequate rest and sleep during his personal and private time as well as also engaging in strenuous training.


To have specific requirements for specific jobs which may limit personal liberty does not appear unethical in other contexts - and in all cases the individual is free to decline the role or the job. These contracts are entered into freely.


A more interesting objection could be raised regarding personal autonomy - an objection that is related to all cognitive of moral (bio)enhancements but not limited to them. The query is how can an individual make a choice that might change their identity, thus essentially either making a choice to create a new identity or making a choice for an individual with a different identity. Such an objection, if successful, would invalidate the concept of consent in such circumstances.


Various rebuttals address this objection. Firstly, individuals change their projects, values and preferences over the course of a life and there is no suggestion in this case that a new identity has been created. Secondly, to combat the claim that this change takes place rapidly, L. A. Paul has brought to light the argument that individuals do undergo transformative experiences very rapidly without taking enhancements - for example, in becoming a parent. It would seem odd to suggest that the decision to become a parent could be unethical because once one has a baby one may experience a sudden transformation in projects, values and preferences that one could not anticipate before the event. Thirdly, in a Parfitian sense, where consciousness is ongoing and the subject retains memories and the ongoing sense of being a subject, identity remains constant. And finally, although there will be a qualitative change of identity to some extent, but analogous to changes that occur naturally, numerical identity remains constant. Thus there seems to be no persuasive reason why making a decision to be morally enhanced should be unethical.



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