In the context of enhancement ethics, evolutionary theory has been largely perceived as supporting the liberal view on enhancement, where decisions to enhance are predominantly regulated by individual autonomy (e.g. Harris 2007; Persson and Savulescu 2012; Kahane and Savulescu 2015; Bostrom and Sandberg 2007).
In this paper I critique this perception in light of recent scientific developments. Cultural evolutionary theory suggests a picture where individual interests are entangled with community interests, and this undermines the applicability of the principle of autonomy (Sterelny 2012; Henrich 2016). This is particularly relevant for enhancement ethics, where, as illustrated here, decisions to enhance are often influenced by desires to increase social status. I discuss the empirical literatures on a variety of types of enhancement, including from height enhancement or cognitive enhancement, and show decisions to enhance are often motivated by desires to increase social status – potentially leading to perverse status competition.
The liberal view requires that a clear distinction can be made between the interests and decisions of the individual, and those of the community, and it is just this distinction that is undermined by our status-oriented moral psychology. The “service view on enhancement”, based on principles of service and trust, is proposed as offering better guidance for the challenges of social living. What is prioritized in this view is not the “own” good and wellbeing in the strict sense, but the good and wellbeing of others and that of the community at large.
***Length without references: 243 words***
Bostrom, Nick, and Anders Sandberg. 2007. “The Wisdom of Nature: An Evolutionary Heuristic for Human Enhancement.” In Philosophical Issues in Pharmaceutics, edited by Dien Ho, 122:189–219. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-0979-6_12.
Harris, John. 2007. Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Henrich, Joseph. 2016. The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Kahane, Guy, and Julian Savulescu. 2015. “Normal Human Variation: Refocussing the Enhancement Debate.” Bioethics 29 (2): 133–43. https://doi.org/10.1111/bioe.12045.
Persson, Ingmar, and Julian Savulescu. 2012. Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement. OUP Oxford.
Sterelny, Kim. 2012. The Evolved Apprentice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Soft robotics is a rapidly developing field, including within the sector of regenerative medicine. Malleable biomimicking constructions such as artificial muscles are being developed by the EPSRC emPOWER project, which are envisaged to provide groundbreaking restoration of function for patients with muscle disorders including sarcopenia, urinary incontinence and laryngeal (vocal cord) paralysis. The nature of this technology promises implants with excellent functionality and safety in the human body. However, ethical analysis of the design, development, and deployment of artificial muscles or similar soft robotic devises is needed.
Using the transformative emPOWER artificial muscles project as a case study, we are conducting a narrative literature review. Necessarily drawing upon diverse and analogous disciplines and topics, we examine the ethical aspects of the design, development and deployment of this augmenting technology. An iterative ethical framework is being developed to focus the review, which should help (at this early stage of the project) to identify the ethical dimensions of this area of innovation.
Outcome & Conclusion:
We will present the ethical framework. Presently, this captures the salient ethical issues under three key domains: (1) serving the public interest, focusing on ends and means, public and stakeholder involvement, and questions of justice; (2) balancing benefits and burdens, with reference to various stakeholders; and (3) respecting autonomy, where questions of consent, privacy, confidentiality, control and ownership arise. Alongside outlining the framework, we will also begin to identify some of the ethical issues arising in the design, development and deployment of artificial muscles.
In the last years, Virtual Reality technology has come to be perceived as the ultimate empathy machine. Studies in neuroscience show that immersive VR experiences can train participants’ cognitive empathy through Virtual Reality Perspective Taking (VRPT), immersive virtual experiences that deploy the first-person perspective, mundane realism and avatar embodiment with transformative effects on one’s moral perception of specific situations.
VRPT shows great promise in enhancing the cognitive empathy of participants both towards specific others and specific groups, such as the victims of domestic violence, elderly populations or individuals suffering from neurodegenerative disorders. However, VR’s potential to act as a genuine environment of moral enhancement is called into question by empathy’s reliability in moral contexts, as empathy is often myopic, prone to in-group biases, proximity and familiarity. Instead of subverting the potential of VRPT as a technology for moral enhancement, these evolutionary shaped traits of empathy can be overcome in the immersive virtual environment.
I argue that the emphatic state is not naturally evoked but trained as a prosocial competence, and VR technologies are uniquely equipped to attach vivid sensuous representations to experiences that prime our cognitive empathy. This, in turn, has the potential of enlarging the horizon of specific others to groups towards which we never felt empathetic towards in the past. Lastly, I maintain that immersive VR can morally enhance individuals without subverting their authenticity, autonomy and moral agency.
It is commonly accepted that dog owners are responsible for their pet’s behaviour in public spaces. Most take this responsibility seriously; some do not. In this paper I explore the curious and seemingly singular phenomenon whereby some dog owners deny the physical and moral facts about a situation where it is claimed their dog harmed or irritated others.
This paper describes and evaluates the curious phenomenon of epistemic and ethical denial among a sub-section of dog owners via a series of case studies and systematic normative analysis. This paper uses six main examples that take their names from parks where the incidents occurred. Three of the cases primarily concern epistemic denial and three denial of moral responsibility, though the former cases all also feature the latter. All data used in the following analysis was obtained first-hand or second-hand from close family members who consented to their descriptions being shared.
In seeking to deny responsibility for their dogs’ (mis)behaviour, some owners engage in denial of facts that they know to be true; if that strategy fails, they fall back on misrepresentation of the ethical landscape of the situation, which can even extend to victim blaming where the person harmed or inconvenienced by the dog (and its inattentive owner) is held responsible for anything untoward that has occurred.
I term these phenomena epistemic and ethical denial, respectively, and offer a tentative exploration these human-animal interactions in terms of placemaking, relational autonomy and responsible behaviour in public spaces.