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Moral Enhancement and the Duty to Eliminate Evildoing

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Duration: 1:12:22 | Added: 01 Feb 2012
Paper delivered at the Moral Evil in Practical Ethics Conference, Oxford 2012.

Each of us has a moral obligation to refrain from evildoing. And yet evils persist in forms like child abuse, gay bashing, sexual and economic slavery, reckless dumping of toxic waste and fraudulent or risky financial practices that rob people of their homes and pensions. Scientific advances offer a possible solution to the challenge of eliminating evildoing: the moral enhancement of human beings through biomedical and biotechnological means. Assuming the efficacy and relative safety of moral enhancement, do we have a duty to use biomedical and biotechnological interventions to reduce the probability that we would become involved in evildoing? I address this question by teasing out and exploring different aspects of the problem. First, what is the target of moral enhancement? More precisely, what is being enhanced and to what extent? I argue against the perfectionist view that we should create moral saints or at least maximally improve people morally. The argument rests on the moral imperative to respect the separateness of persons and on the value of human freedom and autonomy. Second, I consider two alternatives regarding mandatory moral enhancement in society: universal enhancement and selective enhancement of specific groups like public office-holders and violent criminals. The question of who should be morally enhanced cannot be addressed without considering the ethical implications of different technological interventions. This is the third issue to be addressed. One important consideration is whether the intervention risks women's reproductive autonomy or affects only the enhanced individual. Another consideration is the potential for abuse inherent in each enhancement technology. I conclude by commenting on the moral costs and benefits of reducing evildoing through moral enhancement relative to those of alternative programs and the current status quo. It turns out that the question of moral enhancement as a response to evildoing is too complex to allow for a single all-encompassing answer. Exploring this complexity is the aim of this paper.

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