November 30, 2022

Is moral bioehancement even possible?

A new article in Bioethics criticises the moral bioenhancement debate as misguided and framed on gratuitous assumptions. The authors – Inmaculada de Melo-Martin (Cornell) and Arleen Sales (St John’s University) – argue that the impact of pharmacological interventions on moral behavior is unclear and further that bioenhancement is incapable of solving what seem to be massive structural problems (climate change, global poverty, and so forth).

A new article in Bioethics criticises the moral bioenhancement debate as misguided and founded on gratuitous assumptions. 

The authors – Inmaculada de Melo-Martin (Cornell) and Arleen Sales (St John’s University) – argue that the impact of pharmacological interventions on moral behavior is uncertain and further that bioenhancement is incapable of solving what seem to be massive structural problems (climate change, global poverty, and so forth). 

Bioehancement, they claim, might make people “motivationally or dispositionally enhanced”, but this won’t of necessity terminate in moral action. Moral action requires sophisticated moral reasoning and awareness, and a mere physiological disposition to ‘goodness’ won’t provide this.

Regarding the structural dimension of climate change and global poverty, they write:

“The assumption that humanity’s moral ills are the result of mainly individual moral deficits is highly suspect. The framing of morally complex situations like war, famine, terrorism, lack of access to medicines, or poverty, as the result of certain types of individual moral failings ignores the role played by structural – social, cultural, political, economic – forces in enabling and often promoting these evils”.

It is not even clear that moral bioehancement would achieve the modest goal of promoting support for good political and institutional reforms.

The authors question the empirical science behind the pharmacological bioehancement. We are still uncertain as to the role of regions in the brain, such as the amygdala, in regulating the affective component of the emotions.

The article is a strong attack on a series of widely accepted assumptions, and for this reason will likely receive significant attention in future bioethics discourse. 

Academics challenge assumptions underpinning moral bioehancement
Xavier Symons
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moral bioenhancement
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