CFP: Political and Human Rights Implications of Moral Bioenhancement

Submission deadline: June 15, 2014

Conference date(s):
September 8, 2014 - September 10, 2014

Go to the conference's page

Conference Venue:

Manchester Centre for Political Theory (MANCEPT), University of Manchester
Manchester, United Kingdom

Topic areas


We cordially invite papers for a workshop on moral bioenhancement with John Harris at the 2014 MANCEPT political theory conference at the University of Manchester, September 8-10.

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.

Suggested topics:

Contributions are welcome on conceptual and general normative issues in the political realm raised by MBE. Examples for possible questions are: Does MBE pose a threat to egalitarianism? Could MBE bring about better political decisions? Does MBE expand or limit freedom, and which dimensions of freedom and which human rights are interfered with? Are such interferences—and radical policy options in general—legitimate or advisable to avert the dooming ecological catastrophe? Is it possible to make a democratically legitimate decision to impose MBE on all members of a society, or at least on some against their will? Would the normative force of peoples’ opinions and votes be the same after MBE? Do state-run programs of altering moral properties on the cerebral level conflict with principles of deliberative democracy? Does MBE away with the distinction between ideal and non-ideal theory?


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 (, the most prominent critic of MBE.

Please send an abstract of around 500 words in DOC or PDF format to both convenors. The new deadline is June 15, 2014.



Christoph Bublitz, University of Hamburg: [email protected]

Norbert Paulo, University of Salzburg: [email protected]

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