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Moral enhancement

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L169-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2021
Retrieved July 17, 2024, from

Article Summary

Moral enhancements aim to morally improve a person, for example by increasing the frequency with which an individual does the right thing or acts from the right motives. Most of the applied ethics literature on moral enhancement focuses on moral bioenhancement – moral enhancement pursued through biomedical means – and considers examples such as the use of drugs to diminish aggression, suppress implicit racial biases, or amplify empathy.

A number of authors have defended the voluntary pursuit of moral bioenhancement, or the development of technologies that would enable it. They have highlighted the need for humans to morally improve themselves in order to address moral failures such as the oppression of women, the mistreatment of animals, and anthropogenic climate change. They have also emphasised the moral similarities between moral bioenhancement and more familiar forms of moral enhancement, such as that achieved through childhood education, introspective reflection, and engagement with literature.

Critics of moral enhancement have argued that it may undermine our freedom to ‘fall’ (i.e. be immoral), and therefore our moral agency, or exacerbate the domination of individuals by political authorities. They have also questioned the potential for biomedical interventions to produce the deepest and most valuable forms of moral improvement, and have highlighted the risks that technologies for moral bioenhancement might misfire or be intentionally misused, thereby producing moral deterioration. Underlying some of these worries is the observation that there is little agreement on which psychological transformations would constitute moral improvements, and in which contexts. Defenders of moral enhancement have made various proposals for resolving or side-stepping these disagreements, but it remains unclear how far these proposals can take us beyond establishing consensus on the worst types of moral failure.

Citing this article:
Forsberg, Lisa and Thomas Douglas. Moral enhancement, 2021, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L169-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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