- Why Not a Mannequin?Questing the Need to Draw Boundaries Around Love When Considering the Ethics of “Love-altering” Technologies
A lively debate has emerged regarding the ethics of using biomedical technologies to alter feelings of love. Earp and Savulescu et al. (e.g., Earp, Sandberg, & Savulescu, 2014; Earp, Wudarczyk, Sandberg, & Savulescu, 2013; Savulescu & Sandberg, 2008) generally argue that biotechnologies can be ethically used to enhance or diminish feelings they call “love,” a term they use to describe feelings of lust, attraction and attachment in adult romantic relationships. McGee’s intervention in this debate (McGee, 2016), as I understand it, is to argue that not all of the feelings categorized as “love” by Earp and Savulescu et al. should actually be considered “love properly so called.” According to McGee, these “not love properly so-called” feelings are, indeed, proper objects of biotechnological intervention in some cases. However, according to McGee, it is less clear that instances of “love properly so-called” are the proper objects of biotechnological intervention, as these interventions may call the authenticity of this love into question.
In this commentary, I first explain what I find useful about McGee’s intervention, but I argue that his attempts to draw definitional boundaries around “love” may reflect the values of a socially dominant group at the expense of social minorities. Then I suggest that it would be more helpful to consider whether feelings in general are the proper objects of biotechnological intervention in some cases, rather than considering whether a particular type of feeling (e.g. “love”) is a proper object of biotechnological intervention. I conclude by asserting, but not defending, the claim that feelings can be the proper objects of biotechnological intervention in some cases, depending on the context, but that in evaluating the ethics of intervention, we need to focus not just on individual feelings, but also on the structural conditions under which individual feelings are produced and experienced. [End Page 97]
McGee’s intervention is helpful in that it leads us to think about the use of the term “love” by Earp and Savulescu et al. From my reading of their work, I am not sure why they chose the word “love” to describe the feelings they are discussing, and I suspect the choice may have been motivated by convenience and/or a desire to be provocative. In a sense, what McGee is simply arguing is that Earp and Savulescu et al.’s argument would be less provocative if they did not use the word love to describe all of the feelings under discussion, and I think this is a useful point (although if Earp and Savulescu et al. deliberately chose the word to be provocative, this would certainly negate some of their intent).
Where McGee goes awry, in my estimation, is in his effort to suggest that there is “love properly so-called” and that this is a special category of feelings. His argument is essentially based on an appeal to common sense—“we” know what love is and what it is not and we might argue over some borderline cases, but this does not change the fact that there are some things that are love and some things that are not. He uses art as an analogy and this analogy is telling. He states that “we” can all agree that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is an example of “art properly so-called,” and our agreement demonstrates that we have some kind of shared understanding of what “art” is. This example is telling because he chooses as his exemplar something firmly located within the Western canon of art history. But what is canonized, and therefore universally agreed on as “art,” is the art that is produced by the socially dominant group. The borderline cases of art that we argue over are often the “art” that is produced by socially marginalized groups—embroidery, which is often done by women, is a “borderline case” that we argue over, as are “crafts” or “decorative arts” in general—which are often done by women and/or people of color (Markowitz, 1994; Parker, 2010; Pollock, 1999). Our commonsense notion that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is “art” is...