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Moral Bioenhancement and Free Will: Continuing the Debate

  • VOJIN RAKIĆ

Abstract:

This article continues and expands differences I have with Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu concerning issues of moral bioenhancement and free will. They have criticized my conception of voluntary moral bioenhancement, claiming that it ignores the extent to which freedom is a matter of degree. Here, I argue that freedom as a political concept (or as one that is analogous to a political concept) is indeed scalar in nature, but that freedom of the will is to be understood as a threshold concept and therefore not as subject to degree. Consequently, I contend, by asserting that freedom is a matter of degree, that Persson and Savulescu have not undermined my arguments favoring voluntary moral enhancement. In addition, I add three further arguments against compulsory moral bioenhancement.

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Notes

1. Persson, I, Savulescu, J. The perils of cognitive enhancement and the urgent imperative to enhance the moral character of humanity. Journal of Applied Philosophy 2008;25:162–77, at 74.

2. Rakić, V. Voluntary moral enhancement and the survival-at-any-cost bias. Journal of Medical Ethics 2014;40:246–50.

3. Rakić V. We can make room for SSRIs. American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience 2014;5:34–5.

4. Rakić V. Voluntary moral bioenhancement is a solution to Sparrow’s concerns. American Journal of Bioethics 2014;14:37–8.

5. I accept the definition of “ultimate harm” as an event or series of events that make worthwhile life on this planet forever impossible (See note 1, Persson, Savulescu 2008, at 74.).

6. See note 3, Rakić 2014, at 35.

7. See note 4, Rakić 2014.

8. See note 2, Rakić 2014.

9. Persson, I, Savulescu, J. Should moral bioenhancement be compulsory? Reply to VojinRakić. Journal of Medical Ethics 2014;40:251–2.

10. Selgelid, M. Freedom and moral enhancement. Journal of Medical Ethics 2014;40:215–6, at 16.

11. See note 9, Persson, Savulescu 2014. Freedom in an indeterministic or “contra-causal sense” signifies that our choices are not fully determined by our biology and environmental circumstances.

12. See note 9, Persson, Savulescu 2014.

13. “Free will” and “freedom of the will” are used interchangeably throughout this article.

14. See note 2, Rakić 2014.

15. See note 9, Persson, Savulescu, 2014.

16. Savulescu, J, Persson, I. Moral enhancement, freedom, and the god machine. The Monist 2012;95:399421.

17. See note 2, Rakić 2014, at 248–9.

18. See note 2, Rakić 2014, at 248–9.

19. Libet, B, Gleason, CA, Wright, EW, Pearl, DK. Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential). The unconscious initiation of a freely voluntary act. Brain 1983;106:623–42.

20. Libet B. Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action. Behavioral and brain sciences 1986;8:529–66.

21. Lau, HC, Rogers, RD, Passingham, RE. Manipulating the experienced onset of intention after action execution. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 2007;19:8190.

22. Wegner DM. The mind’s best trick: How we experience conscious will. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 2003;7:65–69.

23. Kühn S, Brass M. Retrospective Construction of the judgement of free choice. Consciousness and Cognition 2009;18:12–21.

24. Baumeister, RF, Masicampo, EJ, DeWall, CN. Prosocial benefits of feeling free: disbelief in free will increases aggression and reduces helpfulness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 2009;35:260–8.

25. Baumeister, RF, Crescioni, AW, Alquist, JL. Free will as advanced action control for human social life and culture. Neuroethics 2011;4:111.

26. Rigoni, D, Kühn, S, Sartori, G, Brass, M. Inducing disbelief in free will alters brain correlates of preconscious motor preparation: The brain minds whether we believe in free will or not. Psychological Science 2012;22:613–8.

27. Rigoni, D, Kühn, S, Gaudino, G, Sartori, G, Brass, M. Reducing self-control by weakening belief in free will. Consciousness and Cognition 2012;21:1482–90.

28. Vohs, KD, Schooler, JW. The value of believing in free will: encouraging a belief in determinism increases cheating. Psychological Science 2008;19:4954.

29. The mentioned findings have also been critically assessed by some authors. A discussion of these critiques is beyond this article’s scope.

30. See note 2, Rakić 2014.

31. See note 2, Rakić 2014, at 249–250.

32. See note 2, Rakić 2014.

33. See note 16, Savulescu, Persson 2012, at 412–4.

34. Again, this does not limit our free will or our illusion of it “to some degree.” As shown in the second section of this article, the very fact that compulsory moral bioenhancement is externally manipulated, even if this manipulation is limited to a small number of acts we are disabled from performing, already means that it deprives us of what we experience as our free will.

35. These political decisions would be mediated through laws.

36. The “god machine” that Savulescu and Persson have in mind leaves open the possibility of individuals voluntarily connecting to it (see note 16, Savulescu, Persson 2012, at 414). That is quite different, however, from the voluntary moral bioenhancement that I am supporting. Once people are connected to the “god machine” they cannot opt out anymore. They are permanently subjugated to its will. Only the initial act is voluntary. The rest is compulsion. If some people were misled to believe that being connected to the “god machine” would benefit them (we know of plenty of examples from our history in which people were misled to believe in various totalitarian ideologies), their subjugation to the will of the “god machine,” because it would be irrevocable, would have permanent detrimental consequences. Hence, it is clearly not consonant with voluntary moral bioenhancement of the type I discuss.

37. In an article criticizing Savulescu and Persson’s conception of the “god machine,” Rob Sparrow invokes Philip Pettit’s comparison of the subjection of our will to the “god machine” with the subjection of the slave to a powerful master. Even if this master is benevolent, subjection remains what it is (Sparrow R. A Reply to Savulescu and Persson on ‘Moral Enhancement.’ Journal of Applied Philosophy 2013;31:23–32, at 27). Sparrow also contends that democratic institutions and an educated citizenry are the best safeguard against moral bioenhancement programs being hijacked by authoritarian governments (Sparrow 2013, at 28).

38. Persson, I, Savulescu, J. Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2012, at 42–6.

39. See note 2, Rakić 2014.

I have discussed a number of the issues that are taken up in the article with John Harris, Ingmar Persson, Julian Savulescu, James Hughes, Harris Wiseman, Nick Agar, Rob Sparrow, Thomasine Kushner, and Mary Rorty. I thank all of them for the valuable comments they have made.The article is being published in the framework of the activities of project III41004 of the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia.

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Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
  • ISSN: 0963-1801
  • EISSN: 1469-2147
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-quarterly-of-healthcare-ethics
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