Bioethics Blogs

Moral Enhancement Won’t Work For The Very Reason It Is Claimed To Be Desirable

Guest Post: Alexander Andersson, MA student in practical philosophy, University of Gothenburg
Email: gusandall[at]

In Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement, Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu argue that we, as a human race, are in deep trouble. According to the authors, global-warming, weapons of mass destruction, poverty, famine, terrorists, and even liberal democracies candidate as components in our potential apocalypse. These issues that we are facing require us to be able to make the morally right decisions, however, our current moral deficiencies seem to prevent us from making those decisions. As the authors put it:

[H]uman beings are not by nature equipped with a moral psychology that empowers them to cope with the moral problems that these new conditions of life create. Nor could the currently favoured political system of liberal democracy overcome these deficiencies. (Persson & Savulescu, 2012, p. 1)*

It is therefore desirable to look for means or solutions to get rid of these deficiencies, which in turn would make us morally better persons, thus allowing us to avoid the disastrous situations which otherwise lies ahead. Luckily, Persson and Savulescu do not seem to suffer from moral deficiency, which enables them to put forth a creative plan to save the day.

The proposed solution is moral bioenhancement. In short, this means altering peoples’ moral psychology with biomedical means in order to make people more disposed to do the right thing (or at least less disposed to do bad things). Oxytocin is mentioned as a contender for the procedure which increases trust and trustworthiness (although it has not yet shown any promising results for this purpose).**  Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are also used as an example, which makes people less prone to accept unfair offers, but it is hard to know if this is due to a greater sense of justice or just an increased sense of irascibility.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.