Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Harris' "Good and Bad Uses of Technology"

Harris, John (2007). “Good and Bad Uses of Technology" in Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 123-142.

Harris argues against Leon Kass and Jurgen Habermas whom he believes express a strong opposition to enhancement. Kass argues that the following objections to enhancements fail:
• Safety is not any more a concern for enhancement technology than it does for nonenhancement technology. Harris agrees.
• The access to enhancement technology as it relates to justice and fairness does not stand; only the goodness or badness of the enhancement matters. Harris agrees.
• Parental control over the genotype would add to existing social instruments of parental control and of risks of despotic rule. Harris disagrees and argues that neither genotype nor parental wishes have significant impact on autonomy.
Parents want their children to experience a decent, civilized, and independent life but they will always also want willful control of the process because they think they know best. The claim that attempts to alter our nature through biotechnology is different than through medicine, environment, and education seems wholly implausible on this account. If it is a parents right to alter a child’s nature then the best, most reliable, efficient, and economical method of doing so should be a freedom afforded the parent.

In he next section, Harris addresses Kass’ concerns for cloning and notes that sexual reproduction is akin to roulette and that, if cloning technology was viable, there is less risk than to clone than through sex because the cloner is already a tried and tested product. Since experiences affect physical structures in the brain, there is little chance that a clonee would be exactly like a cloner just as one identical twin is not exactly like the other. Harris rejects pure genetic determinism in favor of free will, choice, and self-development in spite of enhancement. He notes that enhanced powers would not likely be expresses exactly the same way in all individual because on non-genetic factors so there will still be differences between people. We may raise the floor, but the ceiling would be raised as well viz. he rejects the idea that enhancement would create conformity.

Harris then attacks Kass’ critique of enhancement by first noting that it is not always the case that people feel repulsed by the idea of enhancement. Even if they do, it is not a morally relevant feature just as we do not always view it as a moral difficulty when both rich and poor live in the same world. It does not follow that if there is something good or dignified about a natural process that a synthetic modification or replacement is either bad or even of less value. Harris argues that it may actually be better than the natural process because of its relief of human suffering. He then backs to the idea that choice may still mean hard work but acknowledges that making the right choice may be more difficult in the future but that does not mean we should eliminate the choice. He attacks Kass again and comes back to the idea that enhancement, in many forms is already around us so to say that enhancement is somehow different and off-limits is puritanical. Harris obviously rejects the argument from design or God but only claims to want the freedom for individuals to choose for themselves and not have restrictions affect laws come from a religious convictions. In other words, do for your child what you think is best, I will do for mine what I think is best. I think this may have value in conjunction with Glover’s idea of the European model as government as a filter, not a stopper. He argues that Kass’ argument for limitation based on a puritanical and “stunted” view of life shackles the human spirit within the confines of his own imagination and desires. Lastly, he notes that enhancement will only be able to go so far and that experience will still have value viz. there will never be a pill that either induces or removes grief.

Harris then moves to Jurgen Habermas who wrote The Future of Human Nature (2003). Habermas argues against any type of eugenic control and calls enhancement on children human bondage. Further, he claims that it is inegalitarian and destroys future generation’s right to autonomy. Harris comes back with the idea that if we restricted this and restricted that for what a parent can and cannot do, few children would live to be adults. Our parents are instrumental in creating pathways in the brain and, hence, functioning of our minds. This is true with or without enhancement. This goes against the idea that we would be taking autonomy away from our children in some sort of despotic sense. As such, this does not create an unfair social justice of inegalitarianism. Harris concludes by arguing that enhancement would no more result in a loss of personal identity for a future child than a “natural” child born today would. If that child did claim such a loss of identity as the result of enhancement, Harris would remind them that the parents tried to give them best chance at a good life that was available and maybe they should pull themselves together and recognize that they are autonomous beings none the less. The responsibility for how children turn out will always be on the shoulders of parents in so far that they had a choice to do or not to do. To take away handicap or not take away, to enhance or not to enhance; they have to do their best.

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