“In terms of human functioning, an enhancement is by definition an improvement on what went before. If it wasn’t good for you, it wouldn’t be enhancement.” – John Harris, p. 9 (Enhancing Evolution).  

This quote encapsulates a pretty common assumption about enhancements – not only the definitional element of the first half, but also the arguably more normative claim at the end ‘if it wasn’t good for you, it wouldn’t be enhancement.’ It is of course reasonable to assume then that enhancements are, not only good things generally, but are also good things for the people who undergo them; that they are good for the enhanced individual. However, Jen has argued, and Sarah has explored, the fact that that this can’t always be said to be the case.

Jen has argued that cognitive enhancement is not something that is an inherently good thing to bestow on young children, and that this can be demonstrated clearly in the way that we deal with gifted children in our society today, and could even lead to unforeseen consequences such as a new kind of disability. Meanwhile Sarah has explored the idea that moral enhancement (for all its conceptual issues) is something that does not directly benefit the enhanced individual, and that efforts to offer someone a reason to undergo such an intervention are likely to fall flat. Today, they discuss their research.

Conference Details

“Reflections on Bioethics and Law – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”
Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, School of Law, The University of Manchester / UK
4 November 2016