Political and Human Rights Implications of Moral Bioenhancement

September 8, 2014 - September 10, 2014
Manchester Centre for Political Theory (MANCEPT), University of Manchester

United Kingdom

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Social orders have always striven to enhance the moral behavior of their members in order to ensure social cooperation and security. Education, legal systems, religion and psychiatry are prime example of these traditional moral enhancements. It can hardly be denied that the promotion of pro-social behavior is a legitimate goal for governments to pursue. On the contrary, moral enhancement in this broad sense is urgently needed. The philosophical debate over moral enhancement is, however, focused on biotechnological means of moral enhancement—moral bioenhancement (MBE)—, especially those that directly target individuals’ emotional dispositions, for instance through pharmaceuticals or electro-stimulation of the brain. Empirical findings suggest that it might indeed be possible, perhaps even in the near future, to enhance moral behavior, e.g. by increasing empathy or by decreasing tendencies for aggression. Some philosophers—above all Ingmar Persson, and Julian Savulescu—argue forcefully that humankind’s psychological moral structure, as a result of evolution, may be the origin of many pressing problems such as injustice, global warming, and perils from weapons of mass destruction, and that this very moral structure is the proper place for interventions. In a more moderate tone, other  philosophers—such as Tom Douglas—raise the question whether at least some parts of the population, e.g. criminals, should be treated with MBE, perhaps even against their will. Up to now, the debate around MBE has by and large revolved around its effectiveness and its compatibility with common understandings of freedom. This workshop aims at broadening this debate by engaging with the political and human rights implications of MBE.


The workshop will have three sessions, 3 hours each. Talks are 30 min, followed by 20 min discussion. The workshop ends with a round-table discussion with Prof. John Harris (http://www.manchester.ac.uk/research/john.harris/), the most prominent critic of MBE.



Christoph Bublitz, University of Hamburg: [email protected]

Norbert Paulo, University of Salzburg: [email protected]

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