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No end to caring?: Politics and the moral riptide of human evolution

  • Shea Robison (a1)

In a recent issue of Politics and the Life Sciences Mark Walker presented a compelling proposition for reducing evil in the world via an interdisciplinary program he calls the “Genetic Virtue Project” (GVP). As Walker explains, the purpose of the GVP is “to discover and enhance human ethics using biotechnology genetic correlates of virtuous behavior.” PLS subsequently published several critiques of this proposal. While most of these critiques focused on conventional doubts about the technical feasibility or the ethics of such interventions, the more fundamental concern revealed by both Walker's proposal and its critiques is in the largely unquestioned assumption that more morality is necessarily better. Human history is marked by a gradual if uneven extension of moral concern to increasingly distant others, which many take as evidence of the rationality of morality. There is substantial evidence, though, that this expansion is fundamentally biological in origin and therefore not ultimately limited by rationality. Because these expanding moral feelings feel so good to us, we are incapable of perceiving the danger from their ever-expanding focus, in particular from the sincere but increasingly maladaptive collective policies they will engender. Utilizing the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche as a platform, the feasibility of different natural and cultural responses to this impending crisis of caring are examined, none of which are found capable of counteracting this expanding morality. Instead, the best hope for a successful response to this dangerous expansion of caring is actually a sort of reverse GVP, in which the biological mechanisms for this unchecked moral expansion are manipulated via genetic engineering to dial back this expansion. However, the likelihood of actually implementing such an admittedly counterintuitive and controversial program within an increasingly democratized world is doubtful. Ultimately, if we are unable to overcome this betrayal by our best intentions, where does that leave us as a species?

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