[Updated April 2016]
As some of you may have noticed, I've written quite a bit about the ethics of human enhancement over the past few years. For better or worse it has become one of my major research interests. This all started when I wrote a paper about human enhancement and criminal responsibility when completing my PhD (I now think that paper is terrible, but you can find it here). Subsequently, I wrote a (much better) article about the use of enhancement to improve the legitimacy of legal trials. Since then I have published a number of additional papers on human enhancement and the social implications thereof.
In the process of writing these papers, I read a number of books and papers and ended up writing a lot of blog posts. Here's a complete list, in reverse chronological order:
1. Will technological unemployment lead to human disenhancement? (November 2015)
Some people believe that, in the not too distant future, most jobs will be taken over by machines. What consequences does this have for human beings? Michele Loi has recently argued that it will lead to human disenhancement. He argues that this is true if you adopt either a welfarist or functionalist definition of human enhancement (terms that are explained in the post itself):
2. Interview about the Ethics of Moral Enhancement (May 2015)
A link to an interview I did on the Smart Drugs Smarts podcast about the ethics of moral enhancement. This was a fun conversation that took a number of interesting turns.
3. Enhancement and Authenticity: Is it all about being true to ourselves? (January 2015)
Erik Parens used to be prominent critic of human enhancement. A couple of years back, however, he wrote a book that took a more 'middle ground' attitude toward it. In this post, I look at one major section of the book in which he argues that many of the concerns about human enhancement can be reduced to concerns about authenticity:
4. Neuroenhancement and the Extended Mind (January 2015)
This post asks the question: can enhancements to our external environment count as neural/cognitive enhancements? To answer that question I look at Clark and Chalmers's extended mind hypothesis and Levy ethical parity principle. I conclude that there may be important qualitative differences between internal and external enhancers:
5. Do Cognitive Enhancing Drugs Actually Work? (September 2014)
My attempt to summarise the leading metanalyses and systematic reviews of the empirical work on cognitive enhancing drugs such as methylphenidate and modafinil. Obviously, this is a little bit out of date by now, but I'm not aware of any new studies that upset the conclusions reached in this post:
6. An Ethical Framework for the Use of Enhancement Drugs (August 2014)
This post takes a detailed look at a framework developed by Filippo Santoni di Sio, Philip Robichaud and Nicole Vincent for the use of enhancement drugs. The framework focuses on the distinction between outcome-oriented and practice-oriented activities, arguing that different ethical considerations apply in each case. I try to develop their thoughts into a flow chart for determining when and whether the use of enhancing drugs is ethically permissible:
7. Is a Longer Life a Happier Life? Stoicism and Happiness (May 2014)
This looks at stoic arguments against the proposition that a longer life is necessarily a happier life. Stoics believe that a life, once happy, does not become any happier by being longer. I find this to be an intriguing claim since I fancy myself to be something of a Stoic, but I'm not sure I'm convinced:
8. Thoughts on Truly Human Enhancement by Nicholas Agar (April 2014)
In 2013, Nicholas Agar released another book on the ethics of human enhancement. In this one, he argued against radical human enhancement on the grounds that it threatened certain internal goods that are intrinsic to human activities. I evaluated his arguments in a series of five posts. The link below provides links to each of these:
9. Can the Mind Stay Young Forever? (December 2013)
Is the dream of perpetual youth simply that? A dream? Michael Hauskeller argues as much in one of his papers. In these two posts I try to evaluate his arguments:
10, Life Extension and Distributive Justice (November 2013)
The extension of human lifespan is one obvious form of human enhancement. But is it a good idea? There are many facets to that question. One of them has to do with the distributive consequences of increased lifespan. Is it unfair to younger generations to expand the lifespan of older generations? This blogpost tries to answer some of those questions:
11. Interview on Enhancement in Sports and Education (August 2013)
This is an interview I did with Dan Fagella on the ethics of enhancement in both sports and education. Is enhancement cheating? Is it fair to use enhancement technologies? I present some of my thoughts on this topic:
12. Douglas on Moral Enhancement and Superficiality (July 2013)
There is some evidence to suggest that technologies could be used to directly manipulate our moral emotions, thereby encouraging us to engage in morally conforming behaviour. Is this a welcome development? Some argue it leads to a more superficial, less worthy type of moral behaviour. Thomas Douglas has responded to this critique. In these three posts I look at his response:
13. Can the Giftedness Argument be Salvaged? (April 2013)
Michael Sandel famously argued against human enhancement on the grounds that it undermined the giftedness of life. In other words, because it encouraged us to seek mastery over every aspects of our lives. But why is that a problem? Michael Hauskeller has tried to defend Sandel's claim with notable rigour. In this series of posts I analyse and evaluate his arguments.
14. Nagel on the Burden of Enhancement (March 2013)
If we grant that one result of enhancement is an increased number of choices, should we worry about the increased burdens associated with those choices? Saskia Nagel has suggested that we should. She makes two arguments. First, that enhancement exacerbates the problem of choice overload and thereby undermines well-being. Second, that enhancement increases the scope of responsibility. Though I reject the first argument, I think the second is quite interesting.
15. Is human enhancement disenchanting? (Feb. 2013)
When I first read the book Philosophers without Gods, I remember finding David Owens' essay "Disenchantment" to be quite anachronistic given its general antipathy toward atheism and naturalism. Still, it always good to have one's views challenged so I thought I might revisit that essay with a more critical eye. A key part of it is an argument against enhancement, which works from the somewhat nebulous notion that too much control over our lives leads to "disenchantment". I engage with and critique Owens's argument in this series of posts.
16. The Reversal Test and Status Quo Bias (Nov. 2012)
A bias toward the status quo could underlie opposition to many proposed plans and policies. This might be particularly so in the case of opposition to human enhancement. Ord and Bostrom have proposed a test for overcoming this bias. In this post, I try to explain how it works.
17. Doping and Competitive Advantage in Sport (Oct. 2012)
Performance enhancement in sport has been a long-standing source of philosophical interest. Though there is widespread opposition to the use of performance enhancers among elite athletes, it is difficult to find good arguments that supports this opposition. In this series I look at Eric Chwang's argument, which is based on the interests of the athletes themselves.
18. Eyewitness Enhancement and the Common Good (May-July 2012)
A few years back a pair of Dutch authors, Vedder and Klaming, argued that the enhancement of eyewitnesses might serve the common good. I looked at objections to their argument in a couple of posts. As it happens, responding to such objections was a major part of my own article "On the Need for Epistemic Enhancement".
19. Enhancement and Education: Lessons from the Kobayashi Maru (Jan 2012)
This post is a bit of self-indulgent fun, really. People have been concerned about student use of cognitive enhancers for some years, though I'm not sure why. In this post, I draw some lessons from this debate from an analysis of the infamous Kobayashi Maru test in the Star Trek universe. The main excuse for this is to outline some thoughts about the philosophy of rules and the goals of educational assessment.
20. Doping, Slippery Slopes and Moral Virtues (Jan 2012)
Back in late 2011, early 2012 I was on a bit of a roll writing posts about performance enhancement in sport. This is one of several posts I wrote at the time, looking at Michael McNamee's claim that the use of performance enhancers undermined some of the central virtues of sporting character.
21. Overview of argument against Doping in Sport (Dec. 2011)
Arguments against the use of performance enhancers in sport generally settle into one of three categories: (i) harm arguments; (ii) fairness arguments; and (iii) integrity/authenticity arguments. This series of posts provides an overview of the structure and common pitfalls of each.
22. Tannjso on Enhancement and the Ethos of Elite Sport (Dec. 2011)
What is the ethos of elite sport? Might that ethos support the use of enhancement rather than challenge it? These are interesting questions and Tannjso's paper on the topic offers some useful insights. The paper is particularly noteworthy given the slightly unusual methodology it adopts. Instead of working from principles to conclusions, it works from a series of case studies. This makes for a refreshing break from some of the other papers I've read on this topic.
23. Schermer on Enhancement and Cheating (Dec. 2011)
A simple argument against enhancement in sports and education would claim that it is a form of cheating. But how persuasive can this argument be? Maartje Schermer's article offers a quick and useful treatment of this question. In this series, I analyse and evaluate her arguments.
24. Partridge on Performance Enhancement in Swimming (Nov. 2011)
Fairness arguments against the use of enhancement typically don't work. This is for the simple reason that if the goal is to achieve equality of opportunity among the participants to a sporting competition (or, indeed, the members of a society) then this can be achieved by levelling up or levelling down. That is, by banning or allowing enhancement. Are there any fairness argument that are not neutral between these two possibilities? Brad Partridge claims that there is at least one: the intertemporal fairness argument. I look at that argument in this post.
25. Harris on Chemical Enhancement (Oct 2011)
John Harris is a philosopher and lawyer based at the University of Manchester. He is among the most forceful and provocative advocates of human enhancement. In this post, I look at his argument in relation to the use of "smart drugs" among healthy adults.
26. Character and the Enhancement Debate (Jun 2011)
This was one of my early discussions of Sandel's giftedness argument, based on the treatment of that argument in Allen Buchanan's book Beyond Humanity? It has probably been superseded by my later series on Hauskeller's reconstruction of the giftedness argument, but still has some merit in that it deals with Sandel's original presentation.
- Just the one part to this (despite what it might say in the title)
27. Posts on Humanity's End by Nicholas Agar (May-June 2011)
Back in May and June of 2011 I started posting on Nicholas Agar's book Humanity's End. The book was a critique of radical human enhancement and presented a variety of arguments against things like mind-uploading, life extension and posthuman values. I covered nearly every chapter in Agar's book, with the exception of the last. This is much to my ongoing shame (I still have a draft post that I started to deal with the last chapter but I have never finished it and suspect I never will).