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Truly Human Enhancement

A Philosophical Defense of Limits

Nicholas Agar

Publication Year: 2013

The transformative potential of genetic and cybernetic technologies to enhance human capabilities is most often either rejected on moral and prudential grounds or hailed as the future salvation of humanity. In this book, Nicholas Agar offers a more nuanced view, making a case for moderate human enhancement -- improvements to attributes and abilities that do not significantly exceed what is currently possible for human beings. He argues against radical human enhancement, or improvements that greatly exceeds current human capabilities. Agar explores notions of transformative change and motives for human enhancement; distinguishes between the instrumental and intrinsic value of enhancements; argues that too much enhancement undermines human identity; considers the possibility of cognitively enhanced scientists; and argues against radical life extension. Making the case for moderate enhancement, Agar argues that many objections to enhancement are better understood as directed at the degree of enhancement rather than enhancement itself. Moderate human enhancement meets the requirement of <I>truly</I> human enhancement. By radically enhancing human cognitive capabilities, by contrast, we may inadvertently create beings ("post-persons") with moral status higher than that of persons. If we create beings more entitled to benefits and protections against harms than persons, Agar writes, this will be bad news for the unenhanced. Moderate human enhancement offers a more appealing vision of the future and of our relationship to technology.

Published by: The MIT Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vii

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Series Foreword

Arthur Caplan

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pp. ix

I am pleased to present the forty-first book in the Basic Bioethics series. The series makes innovative works in bioethics available to a broad audience and introduces seminal scholarly manuscripts, state-of-the-art reference works, and textbooks. Topics engaged include the philosophy of medicine, advancing genetics...

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pp. xi-xiv

Our humanity marks the point of convergence of increasingly powerful transformative technologies. Some of these technologies will modify human genetic material. Others will attach cybernetic implants and prostheses to human brains and bodies. This book is a philosophical exploration of the moral and prudential limits on the use of these technologies...

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pp. xv-xvi

I owe thanks to many people who provided intellectual and emotional support during the writing of this book. Stuart Brock, Felice Marshall, and Cesar Palacios read the entire manuscript and offered very many philosophically valuable suggestions. Edwin Mares and John Matthewson helped enormously with chapter 5, greatly enhancing my understanding...

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1. Radical Human Enhancement as a Transformative Change

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pp. 1-16

This is the age of human enhancement. Students and pilots swallow pills to enhance their powers of concentration while preparing for exams or operating stealth bombers. Cosmetic surgeons enhance people’s appearances. Olympians use artificial means to enhance their sporting performances. These are but a few ways by which human beings signal our dissatisfaction...

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2. Two Ideals of Human Enhancement

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pp. 17-32

This chapter presents two ideals that compete to direct the enhancement of human beings. According to the objective ideal, an enhancement has prudential value commensurate with the degree to which it objectively enhances a human capacity. Technologies that produce enhancements of greater objective magnitude are, all else equal...

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3. What Interest Do We Have in Superhuman Feats?

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pp. 33-53

The first years of the twenty-first century have seen a resurgence of the Hollywood superhero movie. A spate of big-grossing movies celebrates humans or humanlike beings with superhuman abilities. For example, the 2012 movie The Avengers features flying humans, humans with super-strength, humans sufficiently robust to survive skyscraper collapses, humans with the physical...

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4. The Threat to Human Identities from Too Much Enhancement

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pp. 55-79

In chapter 3, I argued that radical enhancement is likely to replace very valuable experiences and achievements with less valuable experiences and achievements. This reduction in value is a consequence of an estrangement from the experiences and achievements of radically enhanced beings. In this chapter, I switch the focus of discussion to a problem that is effectively...

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5. Should We Enhance Our Cognitive Powers to Better Understand the Universe and Our Place in It?

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pp. 81-112

This chapter addresses the value we place on improving our capacity to do science by enhancing our cognitive powers. The search for new scientific explanations is certainly not the only motivation for enhancing our cognitive powers—one might pursue cognitive enhancement for its effects on the writing of poetry or the playing of chess, for example. But it has a special...

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6. The Moral Case against Radical Life Extension

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pp. 113-136

The longest verified human life span is that of the smoking, drinking Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, who lived for 122 years and 164 days. Calment died in 1997. She had vivid memories of meeting Vincent Van Gogh—“a dirty, badly dressed, disagreeable” man. Calment put her extreme longevity down to a diet rich in olive oil, port wine, and chocolates.1 Radical life extension...

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7. A Defense of Truly Human Enhancement

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pp. 137-156

The chief focus of the book so far has been on the dangers of too much enhancement. The intrinsic value of human enhancement conforms to an anthropocentric ideal. Beyond a certain point, greater degrees of enhancement sever the connection with internal goods and therefore reduce the intrinsic value of enhanced capacities. Note that this is a statement about our present...

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8. Why Radical Cognitive Enhancement Will (Probably) Enhance Moral Status

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pp. 157-180

The chief focus of the book’s discussion so far has been on the individuals who have undergone radical enhancement. Radical enhancement is prudentially irrational—it is predictably bad for those who undergo it. Lesser degrees of enhancement—moderate enhancement—can promote the interests of those who undergo them. It can be prudentially...

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9. Why Moral Status Enhancement Is a Morally Bad Thing

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pp. 181-194

In what follows, I present a moral argument for avoiding the creation of post-persons. Degrees of cognitive enhancement that risk moral status enhancement should, by implication, also be avoided. This argument points to bad consequences of moral status enhancement. These consequences are not certain. They are, however, sufficiently probable and bad to justify limiting cognitive...

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10. A Technological Yet Truly Human Future—as Depicted in Star Trek

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pp. 195-200

This book has presented an ideal of truly human enhancement that combines an endorsement of moderate enhancement with a rejection of radical enhancement. Chapter 7 contained an argument in favor of moderate human enhancement— the improvement of significant attributes and abilities to levels within or close to what is currently...


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pp. 201-211


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pp. 213-214

Basic Bioethics Series

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pp. 215

E-ISBN-13: 9780262318976
E-ISBN-10: 0262318970
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262026635

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Medical innovations -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Biotechnology -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Genetic engineering -- Philosophy.
  • Medical ethics.
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