Enhancing Evolution

Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People

John Harris
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Enhancing Evolution
    Book Description:

    InEnhancing Evolution, leading bioethicist John Harris dismantles objections to genetic engineering, stem-cell research, designer babies, and cloning and makes an ethical case for biotechnology that is both forthright and rigorous. Human enhancement, Harris argues, is a good thing--good morally, good for individuals, good as social policy, and good for a genetic heritage that needs serious improvement.Enhancing Evolutiondefends biotechnological interventions that could allow us to live longer, healthier, and even happier lives by, for example, providing us with immunity from cancer and HIV/AIDS. Further, Harris champions the possibility of influencing the very course of evolution to give us increased mental and physical powers--from reasoning, concentration, and memory to strength, stamina, and reaction speed. Indeed, he says, it's not only morally defensible to enhance ourselves; in some cases, it's morally obligatory.

    In a new preface, Harris offers a glimpse at the new science and technology to come, equipping readers with the knowledge to assess the ethics and policy dimensions of future forms of human enhancement.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3638-3
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, General Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the Paperback Edition
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
    Steve Rayner

    This book evolved from a series of invited public lectures delivered at the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization. The institute was founded at Oxford University’s saïd Business School in 2004, supported by a generous benefaction from the James Martin Trust.² Our mission at the institute is to focus on the major science and technology issues that are likely to shape the next decade to century. Where possible, we seek to highlight opportunities where relatively modest investments or interventions in the present have the potential to propagate, over time, to prevent harms and encourage the generation of greater goods...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    Suppose a school were to set out deliberately to improve the mental and physical capacities of its students. Suppose its stated aims were to ensure that the pupils left the school not only more intelligent, healthier, and more physically fit than when they arrived, but more intelligent, healthier, and more physically fit than they would be at any other school. Suppose they further claimed not only that they could achieve this but that their students would be more intelligent, enjoy better health and longer life, and be more physically and mentally alert than any children in history. Suppose that a...

  7. 1 Has Humankind a Future?
    (pp. 8-18)

    Wouldnʹt it be wonderful if we humans could live longer healthier lives with immunity to many of the diseases like cancer and HIV/AIDS that currently beset us? Even more wonderful might be the possibility of increased mental powers, powers of memory, reasoning, and concentration, or the possibility of increased physical powers, strength, stamina, endurance, speed of reaction, and the like. Wouldnʹt it be wonderful?

    Many people think not. The idea of improving on human nature has been widely rejected. Decisive interventions in the natural lottery of life, to enhance human performance, improve life, and perhaps thereby irrevocably to change our...

  8. 2 Enhancement Is a Moral Duty
    (pp. 19-35)

    I want now to make a brief but I hope decisive and persuasive case for the ethical imperatives which have placed human enhancement firmly on the agenda of all who care about the future of humankind. In later chapters I will deepen and broaden the arguments needed to defend and elaborate this thesis and consider in more detail the consequences of its acceptance. Here, the discussion is designed to introduce different types of enhancement defined by their modes of operation which give a vivid sense of the various forms the debate about enhancement takes. Different styles of objection to them...

  9. 3 What Enhancements Are and Why They Matter
    (pp. 36-58)

    Enhancements are so obviously good for us that it is odd that the idea of enhancement has caused, and still occasions, so much suspicion, fear, and outright hostility. In particular, two influential sets of arguments by philosophers who do not in principle oppose enhancements have nonetheless attempted to place severe constraints on the legitimacy of using enhancement techniques. These objections have been made in terms of either the motivation or the objectives to be achieved on the one hand or on the tests that enhancements have to meet on the other, tests that constrain enhancements in ways that seem hard...

  10. 4 Immortality
    (pp. 59-71)

    The Holy Grail of enhancement is immortality.¹ Increased longevity and its logical extension, some would say its reductio ad absurdum, immortality, have a long history. The human imagination is familiar with the idea of immortals and mortals living alongside one another and doing all sorts of things together, including of course having sex and fighting! TheIliad, theOdyssey, the Bible, the Qurʹan, the Ramayama, and Shakespeareʹs plays have all made such ideas familiar; and even modern classics have taken seriously the possibility of immortality. In his celebrated five-part trilogyThe Hitchhikerʹs Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams imagines a...

  11. 5 Reproductive Choice and the Democratic Presumption
    (pp. 72-85)

    There are many arguments from many sides which purport to give reasons for limiting access to reproductive technologies and procedures which may facilitate the enhancement of individuals or permit illness, impairment, or disability to be removed or minimized. The issue is whether or not these arguments point to dangers or harms of sufficient seriousness or sufficient probability or proximity to justify the limitation on human freedom that they require.

    One of the presumptions of liberal democracies is that the freedom of citizens should not be interfered with unless good and sufficient justification can be produced for so doing. The presumption...

  12. 6 Disability and Super-Ability
    (pp. 86-108)

    It is a paradox that many of those who oppose human enhancement or indeed who oppose reproductive choices that might influence their children or future generations for the better, that might, in short, enhance, do so partly out of fear. This fear takes a number of forms. One is fear that because some may wish to use enhancement or reproductive technologies to avoid disability or to make better children this will lead to discrimination against people with disabilities. Another is that exercise of these sorts of choices may somehow lead to denying people the freedom to have unenhanced children or...

  13. 7 Perfection and the Blue Guitar
    (pp. 109-122)

    One crucial issue at stake in discussions of enhancement is whether the ʺtuneʺ of change is ʺbeyond us yet ourselvesʺ or beyond us in a way that alters our essential nature, our humanity. There is a strong lobby against changeable tunes. Arguments against human enhancement tend to be conservative, they express suspicion of change, emphasize the virtue of things as they are and acceptance of those things. In ʺThe case against perfection: whatʹs wrong with designer children, bionic athletes, and genetic engineeringʺ² Michael J. Sandel makes an eloquent case against enhancement and insists on a position which is in effect...

  14. 8 Good and Bad Uses of Technology: Leon Kass and Jürgen Habermas
    (pp. 123-142)

    Four contemporary writers have been prominent in expressing particularly strong opposition to enhancement: Michael Sandel, Leon Kass, Jürgen Habermas, and Francis Fukuyama. Others already considered have also produced arguments which impact on the legitimacy of enhancement, but in a more nuanced way. We have already examined Sandelʹs arguments in some detail. In this chapter I will consider the case put by Kass and Habermas. Fukuyama I do not discuss in detail in this book, partly because his views have been examined effectively by Jonathan Glover¹ and partly because his arguments are for the most part duplicated by those discussed in...

  15. 9 Designer Children
    (pp. 143-159)

    The phrase ʺdesigner childrenʺ is almost always used pejoratively. But if the design is an improvement on the random combination of genes or if it is more reliable, could it be ethicalnotto be a designer? Even if we are right to disapprove of the motives of many parents who seek to influence how children will turn out, it is far from clear that we are entitled to formalize our disapproval in prohibitive legislation or regulation. We examined some of these problems in chapter 5. Here we will take a different focus and look in some detail at an...

  16. 10 The Irredeemable Paradox of the Embryo
    (pp. 160-183)

    We have seen that many of the most dramatic forms of enhancement will use or will be a by-product of therapies and techniques using regenerative medicine and stem cell science to achieve both the therapeutic and the enhancement effects. The ethics of these techniques will continue in part to turn on the legitimacy of sourcing stem cells from embryos and indeed on research using embryos or on embryo-like entities. These are entities either that may be for all intents and purposes embryos, or which those to whom the embryo is ʺone of usʺ will regard as embryos or regard as...

  17. 11 The Obligation to Pursue and Participate in Research
    (pp. 184-206)

    In hisLife of Galileo, Bertolt Brecht gives a memorable insight into the justification of science to Galileo. Talking to Andrea Sarti, his former student and colleague, who is about to smuggle theDiscorsi, Galileoʹs heretical treatise on mechanics and local motion out of Italy, Galileo says²:

    The battle for a measurable heaven has been won thanks to doubt; but thanks to credulity the Rome housewifeʹs battle for milk will be lost time and time again. Science, Sarti, is involved in both these battles. A human race which shambles around in a pearly haze of superstition and old saws, too...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 207-226)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-238)
  20. Index
    (pp. 239-242)