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Kantian Challenges for the Bioenhancement of Moral Autonomy

  • Anna Frammartino Wilks (a1)
Abstract

In the debate over moral bioenhancement, some object that biochemical, genetic, and neurological interventions aiming at enhancing moral agency threaten the autonomy of persons, as they compromise moral deliberation and motivation. Opponents of this view argue that such interventions may actually enhance autonomy itself, thereby increasing a person's capacity for moral agency. My aim is to explore the various senses of autonomy commonly appealed to in such controversies and to expose their limitations in resolving the central disputed issues. I propose that a Kantian conception of autonomy is more effective in addressing these issues, as it specifies the key features that inform an intelligible account of moral worth and moral law. A consideration of these features is typically lacking in the arguments advanced by contenders in these debates. Guided by a Kantian framework, I argue that moral bioenhancement projects directed at affecting moral autonomy are not as promising as they appear, for both metaphysical and empirical reasons.

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1 Specker, Jona, Focquaert, Farah, Raus, Kasper, Sterckx, Sigrid, and Schermer, Maartje, in ‘The Ethical Desirability of Moral Bioenhancement: A Review of Reasons’, BMC Medical Ethics 15:67 (2014): https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6939-15-67, offer a helpful summary of the various positions in the debate.

2 See Feinberg, Joel, ‘Autonomy’, in Christman, John Philip (ed.), The Inner Citadel: Essays on Individual Autonomy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 2753.

3 See Persson, Ingmar and Savulescu, Julian, ‘The Perils of Cognitive Enhancement and the Urgent Imperative to Enhance the Moral Character of Humanity’, Journal of Applied Philosophy 25:3 (2008), 162177, and Persson, Ingmar and Savulescu, Julian, Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

4 Savulescu, Julian and Persson, Ingmar, ‘Moral Enhancement, Freedom and the God Machine’, The Monist 95:3 (2012), 399421, 416.

5 Sparrow, Robert, ‘Better Living Through Chemistry? A Reply to Savulescu and Persson on “Moral Enhancement”’, Journal of Applied Philosophy 31:1 (2014), 2332, 25, also draws attention to deontological considerations in these debates.

6 Kant, Immanuel, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. and ed. by Gregor, Mary J., in Practical Philosophy: The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 37–108, 8688 (4: 437‒440 in the Akademie edition of Kant's works [hereafter AA]).

7 Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 88‒90 (AA 4: 439‒441).

8 For further discussion of this point see Wilks, Anna Frammartino, ‘Kantian Foundations for a Cosmocentric Ethic’, in Schwartz, James S. J. and Milligan, Tony (eds), The Ethics of Space Exploration (Cham: Springer, 2016), 181194.

9 Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 88‒89 (AA 4: 440).

10 Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 88‒90 (AA 4: 440‒441).

11 Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 86‒90 (AA 4: 437‒441).

12 Persson and Savulescu, ‘The Perils of Cognitive Enhancement and the Urgent Imperative to Enhance the Moral Character of Humanity’, 167.

13 Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. and ed. by Gregor, Mary J., in Practical Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 133–272, 198‒207 (AA 5: 72‒83). Kant acknowledges, however, that not every context is a moral one, and thus not every instance of personal autonomy involves the exercise of moral autonomy.

14 Persson and Savulescu, ‘The Perils of Cognitive Enhancement and the Urgent Imperative to Enhance the Moral Character of Humanity’, 167‒168.

15 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, VI.

16 Schaefer, G. Owen, ‘Direct vs. Indirect Moral Enhancement’, Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 25:3 (2015), 261289, 262.

17 Schaefer, ‘Direct vs. Indirect Moral Enhancement’, 262.

18 Schaefer, ‘Direct vs. Indirect Moral Enhancement', 264.

19 See Wood, Allen W., Kantian Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 106142, for further discussion of Kant's notions of autonomy and freedom.

20 Hauskeller, Michael, Better Humans? Understanding the Enhancement Project (Durham: Acumen, 2013), 52.

21 Douglas, Thomas, ‘Moral Enhancement’, Journal of Applied Philosophy 25:3 (2008), 228245, 239‒240.

22 Simkulet, William, ‘Intention and Moral Enhancement’, Bioethics 30:9 (2016), 714720, maintains that a crucial missing element here is ‘intention’, which is also required for moral motivation.

23 DeGrazia, David, ‘Moral Enhancement, Freedom, and What We (Should) Value in Moral Behaviour’, J Med Ethics 40:6 (2014), 361368, 361.

24 Agar, Nicholas, ‘A Question About Defining Moral Bioenhancement’, J Med Ethics 40:6 (2014), 369370.

25 Raus, Kaspar, Focquaert, Farah, Schermer, Maartje, Specker, Jona, and Sterckx, Sigrid, ‘On Defining Moral Enhancement: A Clarificatory Taxonomy’, Neuroethics 7:3 (2014), 263273, 267.

26 Robichaud, Philip, ‘Moral Capacity Enhancement Does Not Entail Moral Worth Enhancement’, The American Journal of Bioethics 14:4 (2014), 3334.

27 Moreover, Buchanan, Allen, ‘Moral Status and Human Enhancement’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 37:4 (2009), 346381, worries that the enhanced might be considered to have greater moral status than the unenhanced, giving rise to moral inequality between them.

28 Shook, John R., ‘Neuroethics and the Possible Types of Moral Enhancement’, AJOB Neuroscience 3:4 (2012), 314, 5‒6.

29 Shook, ‘Neuroethics and the Possible Types of Moral Enhancement’, 5–6.

30 Douglas, ‘Moral Enhancement’, 240.

31 Raus, et al., in ‘On Defining Moral Enhancement: A Clarificatory Taxonomy’, 267, discuss a related distinction between active involvement and passive receiving, analogous to the distinction between indirect and direct approaches.

32 Raus, et al., ‘On Defining Moral Enhancement: A Clarificatory Taxonomy’, 268.

33 Earp, Brian D., Sandberg, Anders, Kahane, Guy, and Savulescu, Julian, ‘When is Diminishment a Form of Enhancement? Rethinking the Enhancement Debate in Biomedical Ethics’, Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience 8:12 (2014), 2.

34 Douglas, ‘Moral Enhancement’, 228‒245, and, from the same author, see Moral Enhancement via Direct Emotion Modulation: A Reply to John Harris’, Bioethics 27:3 (2013), 160168.

35 Earp, Brian D., Douglas, Thomas, and Savulescu, Julian, ‘Moral Neuroenhancement’, in Johnson, S. and Rommelfanger, K. (eds), Routledge Handbook of Neuroethics (New York: Routledge, 2017), 166184, 170.

36 Earp, et al., ‘Moral Neuroenhancement', 169.

37 See Harris, John, ‘Moral Enhancement and Freedom’, Bioethics 25:2 (2011), 104, and Sparrow, ‘Better Living Through Chemistry?’, 23‒32.

38 John Harris, ‘Moral Enhancement and Freedom’, 102‒111, and Harris, John, How to Be Good: The Possibility of Moral Enhancement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 56109. Although in the latter work Harris appears to have moved closer to Persson and Savulescu on many points, he still seems resolute in his claim that moral bioenhancement is bound to threaten human freedom.

39 These views are cited in Schaefer, G. Owen, Kahane, Guy and Savulescu, Julian, ‘Autonomy and Enhancement’, Neuroethics 7:2 (2014), 123136.

40 Schaefer, et al., ‘Autonomy and Enhancement’, 123.

41 Schaefer, et al., ‘Autonomy and Enhancement', 135.

42 Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, 185‒187 (AA 5: 57‒58).

43 Jotterand, Fabrice, ‘“Virtue Engineering” and Moral Agency: Will Post-Humans Still Need the Virtues?’, AJOB Neuroscience 2:4 (2011), 5.

44 See Wood, Allen W., ‘Kant's Compatibilism’, in Wood, Allen W. (ed.), Self and Nature in Kant's Philosophy (Ithaca: Cornell Press, 1984), 73101, for an account of this type of compatibilism.

45 Darby, R. Ryan and Pascual-Leone, Alvaro, ‘Moral Enhancement Using Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation’, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 11:77 (2017), 2.

46 For further discussion of related issues see Churchland, Patricia S., Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011).

47 Darby, et al., ‘Moral Enhancement Using Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation’, 8.

48 Hauskeller points out that there are also less than optimal cultural and sociological consequences to human enhancement projects in general; see Hauskeller, Michael, Mythologies of Transhumanism (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

49 Crockett, Molly J., ‘Moral Bioenhancement: A Neuroscientific Perspective’, Journal of Medical Ethics 40:6 (2014), 370371, 370.

50 See, however, Bostrom, Nick and Sandberg, Anders, ‘The Wisdom of Nature: An Evolutionary Heuristic for Human Enhancement’, in Savulescu, Julian and Bostrom, Nick (eds), Human Enhancement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 375416, for suggestions on developing bioenhancements that minimise risk and increase benefits.

51 Crockett, ‘Moral Bioenhancement: A Neuroscientific Perspective’, 371.

52 Doudna, Jennifer A. and Sternberg, Samuel H., A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), xiiixvii.

53 Doudna and Sternberg, A Crack in Creation, xvi.

54 For Hauskeller's response to the “genetic lottery” argument, see Hauskeller, Michael, ‘Levelling the Playing Field: On the Alleged Unfairness of the Genetic Lottery’, in Clarke, Steve, Savulescu, Julian, Coady, C. A. J., Giubilini, Alberto, and Sanyal, Sagar (eds), The Ethics of Human Enhancement: Understanding the Debate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 202204.

55 Davis, Dena, ‘The Parental Investment Factor and the Child's Right to an Open Future’, The Hastings Centre Report 39:2 (2009), 2427, for example, has expressed this worry. Others, however, do not think this is a valid concern; see, for example, Schaefer, et al., ‘Autonomy and Enhancement’, 130.

56 Allison, Henry E., ‘Morality and Freedom: Kant's Reciprocity Thesis’, The Philosophical Review 95:3 (1986), 393425, 400.

57 Schaefer, et al., ‘Autonomy and Enhancement’, 124.

58 Schaefer, et al., ‘Autonomy and Enhancement', 124.

59 Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 94‒95 (AA 4: 446‒447).

60 This point receives extended treatment in Persson, Ingmar and Savulescu, Julian, ‘Moral Bioenhancement, Freedom and Reason’, Neuroethics 9:3 (2016), 263268.

61 For further discussion of Kantian autonomy, reductionism, and compatibilism in connection with moral bioenhancement see Kaebnick, Gregory E., ‘Moral Enhancement, Enhancement, and Sentiment’, in Clarke, Steve, Savulescu, Julian, Coady, C. A. J., Giubilini, Alberto, and Sanyal, Sagar (eds), The Ethics of Human Enhancement: Understanding the Debate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 225238, 228‒230. See also Kaebnick, Gregory E., ‘Behavioral Genetics and Moral Responsibility’, in Parens, Erik, Chapman, Audrey R., and Press, Nancy (eds), Wrestling With Behavioral Genetics: Science, Ethics, and Public Conversation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 220234.

62 Chalmers, David J., in The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), offers a comprehensive treatment of these issues in theories of consciousness.

63 Allison, Morality and Freedom: Kant's Reciprocity Thesis, 400.

64 Allison, Morality and Freedom: Kant’s Reciprocity Thesis, 401.

65 Allison, Morality and Freedom: Kant’s Reciprocity Thesis.

66 Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, 185‒188 (AA 5: 57‒59).

67 It should be noted that, on this view, even traditional forms of moral enhancement (for example, through moral education) are limited in their effect on the will, as others have also remarked.

68 One further difficulty, not treated here, is that if genuine voluntary moral bioenhancement were possible, it would give rise to the problem of free-riders. The enhanced would be rendered more vulnerable to the actions of unenhanced individuals. Moreover, those individuals who would be most willing to undergo moral enhancement would not necessarily be those in greatest need of it.

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