Forget Lance Armstrong for a second and think about “biomedical moral enhancement”, a proposal recently defended by Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu in Unfit for the Future. The Need for Moral Enhancement. In this book Persson and Savulescu claim that neither our current moral software – our morality of common sense as they call it- nor the institutions of liberal democracies are capable of coping with what they label as “ultimate harms”: the perils of terrorism and climate change which might efface human species from Earth.
The reason is that according to Persson and Savulescu we suffer from certain cognitive biases which prompt our moral blindness towards the suffering of those who are not near and dear. Also that we remain hooked to a causal conception of responsibility which gives us the perfect excuse for not blaming ourselves for our tiny – albeit jointly necessary- contributions to the causation of big disasters: from the emission of pollutants to the consumption of red meat. In a nutshell: Evolution did not equip us with the sense of justice and altruism that global poverty and the environmental destruction demand. The solution?
The therapy is moral enhancement by biomedical means. The science of moral enhancement is at a babbling stage (see this reference as one of the pioneer studies) although we could speculate with a couple of disturbing queries as regards to moral enhancement. I will present them as questions for the sake of eliciting some debate.
1.- John Harris has claimed, quoting John Milton, that part of our sense of being free is to be “free to fall” (i. e. to act immorally): Is moral enhancement compatible with human freedom?
2.- Is it possible to argue for moral enhancement on the face of reasonable moral disagreement? Persson and Savulescu are well aware of the fact that we sharply disagree on many moral topics, but they contend that morally enhancing people in order to make them more altruistic, for example, is always good, so there cannot be controversy on that form of moral enhancement. Even if that is the case – which might be debatable-, and given the “ultimate harms” we have to deal with, isn’t it the corollary of Savulescu and Perssons’ approach that we should make moral enhancement mandatory as children’s vaccination? Are we willing to do so?