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We Must Create Beings with Moral Standing Superior to Our Own

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 December 2014


Several lines of reasoning have been employed to both approve and disapprove two of Nicholas Agar’s positions: his argument that the creation of postpersons (based on moral status enhancement) is imaginable and possible and his inductive argument disfavoring the creation of postpersons. This article discusses a number of these lines of reasoning, arguing that

  1. 1) The creation of postpersons is imaginable if they are envisaged as morally enhanced beings.

  2. 2) The creation of postpersons is justified, subject to the condition that we create morally enhanced postpersons.

The reason given for the first point is that it is possible to imagine postpersons who are morally enhanced, provided that we consider moral enhancement as an augmented inclination to act in line with how we believe we ought to act. There are two reasons offered for the second point: the first indicates probability, and the second offers proof. That is, if we assume that the higher moral status of postpersons implies their enhanced morality, we can conclude, inductively, that (morally enhanced) postpersons will not be inclined to annihilate mere persons. For if mere persons have moral inhibitions against obliterating some species of a lower moral status than their own, morally enhanced postpersons will be even less likely to do the same to mere persons. In fact, they might consider it their moral duty to preserve those beings who enabled them to come into existence. Moreover, even if morally enhanced postpersons decide to annihilate mere persons, we can conclude, deductively, that such a decision is by necessity a morally superior stance to the wish of mere persons (i.e., morally unenhanced persons) to continue to exist.

Special Section: How Moral Is (Moral) Enhancement?
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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1. Agar, N. Why is it possible to enhance moral status and why doing so is wrong? Journal of Medical Ethics 2013;39:6774.Google Scholar

2. To this definition I add the proviso that some currently existing humans do not satisfy the criteria for personhood.

3. Sparrow agrees with Agar in that regard.

4. Hauskeller, M. The moral status of post-persons. Journal of Medical Ethics 2013;39(2):76–7Google Scholar, and Wasserman, D. Devoured by our own children: The possibility and peril of moral status enhancement. Journal of Medical Ethics 2013;39(2):78–9.Google Scholar

5. Persson, I. Is Agar biased against “post-persons”? Journal of Medical Ethics 2013;39(2):77–8CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed, and Douglas, T. The harms of status enhancement could be compensated or outweighed: A response to Agar. Journal of Medical Ethics 2013;39(2):75–6.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

6. See note 1, Agar 2013, at 72.

7. Agar discusses the “inexpressibility problem” as follows: “It is an implication of accounts that make a cognitive capacity, or collection of such capacities, constitutive of moral status, that those who do not satisfy the criteria for a given status find these criteria impossible to adequately describe” (see note 1, Agar 2013, at 69).

8. See note 1, Agar 2013, at 69.

9. Agar, N. Still afraid of needy post-persons? Journal of Medical Ethics 2013;39(2):81–4, at 81.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

10. See Powell, R. The biomedical enhancement of moral status. Journal of Medical Ethics 2013;39(2):65–6.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

11. Rakić, V. Voluntary moral enhancement and the survival-at-any-cost bias. Journal of Medical Ethics 2014;40(4):246–50, at 248.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

12. However, it is not inconceivable that, as we approach the required technologies in the future, be they of the pharmacological, biotechnological, nanotechnological, or artificial-intelligence variety, we might become aware of other criteria for postpersonhood.

13. Cf., Rakić V. From cognitive to moral enhancement: A possible reconciliation of religious outlooks and the biotechnological creation of a better human. Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies 2012;11(31):113–28Google Scholar. And see note 11, Rakić 2014.

14. See note 11, Rakić 2014.

15. See note 5, Persson 2013.

16. See note 5, Douglas 2013.

17. I am indebted here to John Harris, who disagreed with me on this during a conversation. My argument was the following: One might attempt to make a comparison between a postperson who was voluntarily created by mere persons and a human who came into existence as a result of her mother having been raped (and who would not feel she is morally indebted to her mother). However, this comparison contains an important disanalogy in that the latter’s mother did not decide to bring her into existence, whereas in our argumentation mere persons are the ones who voluntarily opt for the creation of postpersons.

18. Agar, N. We must not create beings with moral status superior to our own. Journal of Medical Ethics 2013;39(11):709Google Scholar. The title of the present article asserts the opposite of the title of Agar’s article: we must create beings with moral status superior to our own.

19. For my argument against the “survival-at-any-cost bias,” see note 11, Rakić 2014. For a reply to my argument, see Persson I, Savulescu J. Should moral bioenhancement be compulsory? Reply to Vojin, Rakic. Journal of Medical Ethics 2014;40(4):251–2Google Scholar, as well as Selgelid, M. Freedom and moral enhancement. Journal of Medical Ethics 2014;40(4):215–16.Google Scholar

20. That is to say, the wish that our species will survive is morally dubious, for example, if its implication is that the state, in order to avoid ultimate harm, deprives humans of their freedom by imposing moral bioenhancement.

21. I am indebted to Nicholas Agar and Rob Sparrow for a discussion we had about this.

22. This argument is contrary to the claim in Agar 2013, at 67 (see note 1).

23. See note 18, Agar 2013.