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Playing to lose: transhumanism, autonomy, and liberal democracy [long read]

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The debate over human “enhancement,” or the biotechnological heightening of human abilities, is prominent in bioethics. The most controversial stance is transhumanism, whose advocates urge us to develop biotechnologies enabling the “radical” elevation of select capacities, above all, rationality.Transhumanists insist that their vision of the radical bioenhancement of human capacities is light-years removed from prior eugenics, which was state managed. Decisions about how far and even whether to enhance oneself and one’s children-to-be would stem strictly from personal discretion. Since autonomy is retained—indeed, powerful biotechnologies would offer individuals marvelous new avenues for its expression—transhumanists’ vision fits squarely within liberal democracy. Or so we are told.This reassuring, empowering picture is undercut by transhumanists’ own arguments, which offer incompatible pictures of personal autonomy in relation to decisions about the use of bioenhancement technologies. Autonomy is, indeed, front and center when transhumanists’ immediate goal is debunking the charge of substantive ties to eugenic history. It recedes, however, when they focus on why one proceeding rationally should find their “posthuman” ideal compelling. Here, transhumanists depend on rationales from utilitarian ethics, within which autonomy cannot be valued in its own right, to support the strong desirability of bioenhancement and even its moral requirement.Utilitarian ethics and its ties to politicsFor utilitarians, only well-being, gauged in terms of states of affairs, is intrinsically worthwhile. Utilitarians aim to maximize well-being, calculated in terms of the overall balance of benefit and harm. Decisions are to be made impartially, their reference point not individuals or families, but, instead, generations. From a utilitarian perspective, the course deemed to maximize generational well-being is the rational and, thus, morally required path.Ethical and political stances are. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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