Ethical Aspects of Human Enhancement



To create new technologies and develop science to help society deal with some of our deficiencies like crime, or deviance of our personalities like psychopathy is a task that requires philosophy contribution. I will argue that are inconsistencies in a few authors that currently writes about these themes that compromises the results of these ideas. Although I’m personally an enthusiast of technology, a philosophical analyze must be made about the use of new robotic devices or medical techniques to enhance human beings and society. Thinkers that are originating new possibilities for the use of computing science should not only look for the future use of some of the wonderful that humanity might have, but also look back and reflect about philosophical difficulties that are intriguing.

Probably we always must deal, before starting something that will produce higher or lower changes, with two groups well defined: pessimists and optimists. In regard of this field of bioethics related with Transhumanism and the impact of some shifts, or choices that probably could cause major changes on Humanity, we must be cautious. However, to be cautious doesn’t mean to be paralyzed with irrational fears.

Hans Jonas is a kind of pessimist thinker. It’s obvious that his biblical background compromises his entirely opinion about this area. Jonas alerts about the risks involved in the “Divine Creation” of the universe (2010, p.61). It sounds a bit contradictory because if the universe and humanity are fruits of this “Divine Creation,” and He is all powerful and perfect, this danger should not exist. Jonas was a conservative thinker, and his universe is entropic.

The optimist group is well represented in the thinkers of Transhumanist movement and I’ll focus on them. At least for most of us, to combat racism, sexism and all kinds of discrimination is a good thing; at the same time in our democracies it takes long discussions before a law be publicized. Other challenges are the existence of criminals, serial killers and psychopaths that emerge because of causes that in which the debaters have not yet reached an agreement.

We can notice paradoxically that these thinkers can somewhat fuzzy exhibit a pessimism at least about the “speed” that these transformations occur in a democratic state. Technology may help society to accelerate the debates or simply skip a step and upgrade a potential solution. It may sound like a “deus ex machina” that appears in the vast spectacle of human politics.

The revolution so should begin with the most immediate experience that we have: our bodies. Why not change some of our perceptions and thoughts, or simply generate a new kind of development in our children? (2013, p. 116, 117).  For centuries philosophers and educators imagined and speculated new forms of education for the improvement of humanity, but the new paradigm of education maybe it should be change our perceptions. The notion of “profound embodiment” of a robot or biological organism that “is able to learn to make maximal problem-simplifying use of an open-ended variety of internal, bodily, or external sources of order” sounds for me like an Aristotelian νοήσεως νόησις in a tiny scale.

Advancing we face the problem of free will. The criticism against the feeling of individuation in Western countries is the result of Aristotle+ scholasticism, and is correct; however, when we read a stretch of Henrik Walter’s book The neurophilosophy of Free Will (2013, p.131), a pompous title, “that only decisions of our brain that are associated with our self-model, then we can have “free willing”, we have nothing, but Schopenhauer’s thought reproduced.

So, we can experience the enhancement of our bodies at the same time this will provide us with a different view of society, maybe turning us less selfish. Additionally, humanity will be united in a single “emerging global brain” or an “Earth level mind” (2013, p.131). It is scary similar with Ibn Rush’s (Averroes) active intellect. I can’t imagine any personal autonomy if this becomes true, not to mention the danger of a global tyrant like one imagined by Dante Alighieri in his Monarchia, himself an averroist.

The Artificial General Intelligence pretends to change not only a single individual mind but also humanity in general. At first glance it does seem to me more a medical treatment of society’s most dangerous problems than an “enhancement”. Use technology to show us another kind of world does not seem to be something exactly new. I believe that for many decades we are already undergoing a massive technological propaganda that intends to show us a new vision of the world and what is supposed to be even better, against some authentic individual values. Speaking from a developing country perspective, I can assure you that from here we receive many messages or perceive actions that aim to guide us from a propagandist action of a supposedly more advanced country.

Now we have shown some aspects of technological enhancement some medical ethics issues can be addressed. Suppose Western societies began to discuss something like “human enhancement” applied to some men or women diagnosed with psychopathic tendencies, for example. Shouldn’t science and technology be used as allies protecting society against future threats?

There are situations when this perhaps could be tested (citar) that are especially related with a low degree of empathy. Those people who suffer from this tendency should be placed aside of society, so they are already with their autonomy compromised. It’s not the case with a healthy citizen.

In philosophical or theological terms there are some discordance if human beings are born with a good or an evil tendency. However, many evil actions and thoughts arise in a way or another with time. Science and technology could help not only changing our opinions and misconceptions but also awaking some innate goodness which every individual have.

For example, in the future some device can be activated that makes the interposition between, for example, the sense of sight and the mind of a psychopath that prevents his will to produce evil intentions or acts; moreover, drug or psychotropic could be added to direct or soften this evil will.

In bioethics there is something called paternalism. I think that this problem is reproduced though concealed under the mantle of science. If anyone thinks that can “control” the behavior of another person, even with the good results of reducing racism, crime and intolerance, this scientist or philosopher would be acting paternalistic.

Imagine centuries ago when the Roman Catholic Church told the Europeans that she was preserving their faithful followers from paganism, idolatry and the barbarians; this kind of protection had the effect of controlling access to science and education because they would be potentially dangerous if everyone had access to certain books. This is paternalism of some different type, of course. Also, the Roman Catholic Church was implanting a kind of future control that would prevent the misbehavior of her believers from what she thought was harmful. Can anyone think how humanity would be if already on our days some institution was controlling our minds? There is another example.

In the XIX century bishop Malthus has convinced many Europeans that that population growth would be greater than that of food production, thereby criminalizing the poor population, based on supposed empirical observations in the British Aristotelian-empiricist style. In our time, isn’t possible that some thinker pretends to use some new technology on an individual man or woman that denies global warming or Darwinism? For many people these are incontestable scientific facts and the denial of them could possible harmful for our future or by the propagation of “obscurantism”. in this way it is very easy for someone to try to control the development of society in a paternalistic way because he thinks that the path he imagines is the most correct and all the others are wrong, as it was in the Middle Ages by the Roman Catholic Church.

There is some way of cover up this mode of thinking that is reproduced in this article by Elvio Baccarini (2015). Here is the example:

But imagine that there is a mechanism that literally prevents people from doing certain things. Would they be unfree for this reason? Not necessarily. They are not unfree if they have chosen to activate this mechanism. Think about Ulysses and the Sirens. What would be the manifestation of Ulysses’ freedom: to be impeded in his temporary incapacity to resist the Sirens’ song, or after the realization of his considered requirement, not to be left alone when he is incapable of resisting the Sirens’ song? For Savulescu and Persson the second case expresses Ulysses’ valuable freedom. So, does the behavior of the person whose behavior is constrained in the way she decides to constrain it based on her own considered judgment. With this, they have shown that the behavior control mechanism is not freedom limiting (and, a fortiori, moral enhancement is not wrong) when deliberately chosen. They also think that it is not wrong if applied to children. Yet, what about such a behavior controlling mechanism when adults do not choose it voluntarily?

 What can be said about this?  What kind of acquisition Ulysses got with that situation? The weakness is still there and before any event how can we know how we will behave? or in another manner, if I know that I am a potential killer or a robber, isn’t it more feasible to analyze my bad inclination?

Before I can advance in my argumentation, it should be noted that the German philosopher Leonard Nelson thought as follows:

Um zu prüfen, was hiermit eigentlich gesagt ist, müssen wir überlegen, welche Folgen sich daraus ergeben, daß die Befriedigung des wahren Interesses, gemäß unserer Inhaltsbestimmung des Ideals, nur durch Selbsttätigkeit möglich ist.

In order to examine what is actually said here, we must consider the consequences of the fact that the satisfaction of the true interest, according to our definition of the content of the ideal, is possible only through self-activity. (1920) all translations mine

This self-reflection is denied when we are under paternalistic action. Recall that this is not a medical treatment, but a new philosophy that seeks to improve humanity from isolated individuals. The action looks very much like a psychiatric treatment called therapeutic accompaniment in which an emotionally weakened person is placed temporarily with the help of a psychologist or occupational therapist. But any such treatment needs to be temporary to work out. Leonard Nelson thus adds on the paternalism

bringt es mit sich, daß die Bevormundung rechtlich eingeschränkt ist auf die Bedingung, daß sie darauf hinwirkt, den Grund ihrer Rechtlichkeit nach Möglichkeit wiederum aufzuheben, indem sie darauf ausgeht, dem bevormundeten Wesen die Möglichkeit der vernünftigen Selbstbestimmung zu geben.

It implies that the tutelage is legally restricted to the condition that it seeks to abolish the ground of its legitimacy, whenever possible, by giving the paternalized being the possibility of rational self-determination. (1920) all translations mine

therefore, the terms used by Nelson originate in law since he is a Kantian, and can be applied to our previous psychological observation. In addition, there is an obvious consequence also in this psychological part if the intention is the use of technology to avoid crimes or even real or imaginary minor deviations. It is making technology and those who control it because it is difficult to imagine that control of such areas would be “democratic” to become like an archetype of a great mother who protects us and thinks for us. Jung realized the example of Christ who went ahead in his life even against the warnings of his mother and family that he should not go forward (1995, p.399).

Hans Jonas was perhaps the first to warn of the danger that technology poses to the future of humanity. Others have created the term Ultimate Harm, but there is still debate as to whether the moral enhancement of individuals should override a technological breakthrough. I argue that both can walk together, but what is unclear is whether the technology intends to advance, or simply heal society. As I mentioned before, Hans Jonas believed in an entropic universe as it seems to me to be the concept of Ultimate Harm. Who would then tell us how far can we go? Science cannot therefore adopt the archetype of the Great Mother and prevent us from doing new things.

Human Potentialities

All these reflections about human enhancement cannot go over the problem of free will. Do humans have free will? If we just say yes, then no further philosophical reflection on the use of technology would be possible, for it would be enough for everyone to change their free will at will. Not only that, but religion would also be dispensable, and the only religion would become a type of Pelagianism.

One of Schopenhauer’s ideas that differ from the western philosophical tradition, inherited from the Catholic tradition of St. Augustine, the inventor of the concept of free will, is the negation of this concept. Saint Augustine, even in his commentary on Genesis (2005, p, 294), was in the way of suggesting that the original sin had not been eaten from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, but Eve’s disobedience. However, if Augustine denies that existed that tree, she could not have a perverted will of her own, nor know what Evil was; if, as Augustine says, sin was disobedience, then, and Eve was created from nothing just before, within it was already the essence of the sin of disobedience, therefore, God would be the author of Evil. Augustine realizes this and closes the discussion as usual in it.

Unlike in Schopenhauer and Buddhism, man is responsible for his actions, for an existence presupposes an essence. Hence, the German philosopher repeats the scholastic adage operari sequitur esse, for as every human being is, so are his deeds (2005, p.74). Buddha says the same thing: “Beings are owners of their actions, heirs of their actions; they originate from their actions, are bound to their actions, have their actions as their refuge.” (2005, p.284)

Both teach that we are subject to the Law of Causality; in the case of Schopenhauer it is the starting point for any possibility of knowledge, which is good; in Buddha it produces an infinite series of desire and suffering, source of the discord of society. How do we deal with this intriguing difficulty of a Causality that escapes us in the space-time domain with a willingness coming from the night of time? Do they not impose a limit on our science and any illusion may we are to be redeemed by it? It would have to be stopped. However, is not Desire the source of Evil that it would not make that capacity that we have from our will, good or bad, to accomplish something? At least in Schopenhauer nature, including human beings, are subjects to this devouring rage which the Platonic Idea casts upon the world. Beings devour each other, and only species is what matters. Both believe that the notion of an individuality that separates us from the other phenomena of life is an evil, and that only as we recognize ourselves in the multiplicity of phenomena do we attain salvation. However, before the salvation there is something to be overcome.

The egoistic view of the self against all others have as one of its origins the Aristotelian philosophy and its metaphysics which tends to immanentize and individualize the universal, grasped by the senses. The theory of morphological freedom itself can presuppose this as an individual self against society. (2013)

Luther strongly criticized, from the point of view of theology, Aristotle in these terms

In der probatio zur 28. These der »Heidelberger Disputation« skizziert Luther ein Argument gegen ein fundamentales aristotelisches Theorem. Im Unterschied zu Luthers Kritik am aristotelischen Verständnis des Erwerbs der Tugend der Gerechtigkeit hat es bisher die verdiente Aufmerksamkeit nicht gefunden. Zwar wurde der Einwand Luthers wahrgenommen und paraphrasiert, jedoch nicht in systematischer Absicht untersucht Luthers Überlegung besagt, daß Aristoteles in seiner Seelenlehre die ontische Struktur des Sünders beschreibt, in der grundgelegt ist, daß dieser »in allem das Seine sucht. Daß aber der Sünder als der der maßgebende Mensch gedacht wird, steht in Widerspruch zur Theologie.

Secunda pars patet et est omnium Philosophorum et Theologorum, Quia obiectum est causa amoris, ponendo iuxta Aristotelem, omnem potentiam animae esse passivam et materiam et recipiendo agere, ut sic etiam suam testetur contrariam philosophiam esse theologiae, dum in omnibus quaerit quae sua sunt et accipit potius bonum quam tribuit


In the twenty-eighth proof of Heidelberger’s contention, Luther outlines an argument against a fundamental Aristotelian theorem. In contrast, to Luther’s critique of Aristotle’s understanding of the virtue of righteousness, he has not yet received due attention. Nevertheless, in a systematic way the intention is to examine Luther’s consideration, for Aristotle in his psychological doctrine describes the ontic structure of the sinner, who seeks his own things in everything, but the fact of the sinner being thought as an authoritarian man is in contradiction with theology.

 The second part, of course, is the whole of the philosopher and the theologian, for the object is the cause of love, Aristotle putting all the power of the passive soul to receive the material, and demonstrates that philosophy is contrary to theology, all things ask those who are yours, and accept more than the good that contributed. (2001) All translations mine

Luther well grasped the danger of this Aristotelian notion of the human body as a kind of sponge that captures sensory data on all sides. Two examples below were listed by their author as reasons for using biomedical moral enhancements. I will make a connection with a philosophical opinion derived from Aristotle.

Weak will or susceptibility to temptation, a failure of motivation

Defective empathy as found in persons with narcissistic personality disorder

and in others who are very self-absorbed – a failure of insight (DeGrazia, 2014, 364).

Very well. The Thomistic theologian Édouard Hugon, in a very famous book, approved by the Church in the early twentieth century, wrote something so dreadful that I wonder how much of our society is not subject to these rules. He writes, for example that human intelligence is completely passive in relation to objects; that intelligence is not the measure of things, but sensitive objects, and that we must adapt our intellect to the outer world (1998). We may go forward.

The domain of sexuality, for example, is another area that produces many problems for the medical field and is potentially dangerous in people with tendencies to some more serious detour. It is not the case that we approach all this aspect in this work, but psychology knows of all the power that sex possesses in the human psyche. In our society we already have an excessive propaganda of sex and of pornography by all types of media.

Does not the union of a passive mind with a weakened will, which makes us slaves to propaganda and a flood, for example, of erotic and pornographic images and motives, not a good feature of a future socially maladjusted individual?

What then would be the way to redemption? It would be able to realize one’s own individuality while it serves humanity. It would not be necessary to think that machines would save us by themselves, but that they are only aid and can never generate possibilities. We humans do some of these possibilities through work. But, while we like to say that work dignifies and that all professions are important, in practice we transform each worker’s life into hell. Individual fulfillment together with collective service should be within the reach of everyone in the world of work, and I believe that many of our problems could be solved from that.

The French philosopher Simone Weil described in a profound way how oppression in the world work is terrible.

However, the worst outrage, the one that perhaps deserves to be likened to the crime against the Spirit, which can- not be forgiven, if it weren’t committed by those unconscious of what they were doing, is the crime against the attention of the workers. It kills the faculty in the soul that is the very root of every supernatural vocation. The low quality of attention demanded by Taylorized work is not compatible with any other because it empties the soul of everything unconcerned with speed. This type of work cannot be transformed; it must be suppressed. (2015)

 Adding to Weil’s words, we can say that simply demolishing and ridiculing someone’s work is already a crime against the spirit.

So, we suggest that salvation and human potential can be realized in three different ways: the way of Buddha, on a science that is neither directed to the external world nor to science, but that is directed to the interior of each individual, but generates harmony for society as a whole; the way of Schopenhauer, on which the Law of Causality is the beginning of science, we can grasp the Platonic Idea by some form of art; by the daily work in which Simone Weil sought inspiration in Marx, which must be free and respected for the whole of society to win. Work must be a union of inner growth in the Buddhist way with a transference of this Idea not only in the classical art we know but also in the daily art of daily work.

Finally, science is a creation of the human mind, but that alone cannot redeem it. I think we should reject its use in a paternalistic way, for some of the theoreticians who are apparently futurists end up throwing us into the Aristotelian-Thomist trap of a passive intellect in need of tutelage. I reject the pessimism of a thinker like Hans Jonas, who has the Bible behind. Man is a creator of possibilities but carries within himself this greater contradiction of nature in general that is to create and to destroy, often in a fragile balance. However, any moral or scientific progress must articulate the development of personal autonomy with the service of neighbor, community, and humanity.


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