Friday, October 3, 2008

Harris' "Introduction" and "Has Mankind a Future?"

Harris, John (2007). “Introduction” and "Has Humankind a Future?" in Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1-18.

Harris attempts to answer the question: if the goal of enhanced intelligence, increased capacities, and better health is something we might strive for though education, why should we not strive to produce these goals through other enhancement technologies, including genetic enhancement? He defines enhancement as good if they make us better people. His thesis defends enhancement and argues that not only are enhancement permissible, but that in some cases, there is a positive moral duty to enhance. He briefly appeals to Plato, Marx, Locke, Rousseau, and Bentham to argue that we, as moral agents, have a responsibility to make the world a better place. He notes that we have reached a time in human history at which further attempts to make the world a better place must include changes to the world and humanity. He does not seem to think this is a bad thing and he will show later in the first chapter. He does not think that it is a bad thing that our descendants will not be human in the sense that we now know, but that it is inevitable from an evolutionary point of view or a technological point of view. He thinks that natural selection will be replaced with deliberative selection and Darwinian evolution will be replaced by enhancement evolution. He believes that humans have a moral responsibility to make informed choices for our fate and the fate of the world in which we live along responsibility to make a world a better place. Done correctly, we can take the chance out of evolution and place it within our hands so that change leads to a better species altogether. He seeks to find an ethical way to enhance intelligence, happiness, strength, and life expectancy in ways that protect the safety of people and are consistent with justice, government, and regulation.

He will look at stem cell technology, gene manipulation, embryo selection, drugs, and mechanical enhancements. Harris will also argue against the health and disease models advanced by Boorse and Daniels, which we should review. He argues that the presumption is that citizens should be free to make their own choices in the light of their own values, whether or not these choices and values are acceptable by the majority. He will argue against Michael Sandel, Leon Kass, and Jurgen Habermas who have supported arguments against enhancement. He thinks that choice of phenotypical traits such as hair, eye, and skin color are morally neutral because it is it no worse to be black versus white or blond versus brunette, etc. Harris advocates for research and argues that the fetus is an irredeemably ambiguous entity and not sacred. Research should be regarded not only as desirable but as a positive moral obligation.

He opens up the first chapter by claiming that human enhancement is a good thing and that our genetic heritage is in need of improvement. He also quotes de Lampedusa, "If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change." He takes this tact to argue against a conservative position and points out those conservatives who argue against enhancement actually engage in enhancement all the time. He notes that glasses and vaccinations are forms of enhancement – an improvement from what went on before. We enhance in these ways because we are decent, moral people who want to protect each other from harm and benefit ourselves and others. He argues that there is no inherent difference in types of enhancement. The opportunity to create healthier, longer-lived and therefore better lives is a moral responsibility and in the best interest of governments and society.

Harris then appeals to Bertrand Russell's Has Man a Future? to note that we must preserve and expand on what is good in humans, which entails that we should improve in humans over preserving the species in its current form. Harris does not believe that illness and poverty are likely to occur by chance over the thousands of generations evolution requires so any change for the better, based on where we are at as a species, must be up to us. Our potential is in our hands. In this sense, evolution does become something concerning progress and thus becomes teleological. Again, he goes back to the conservative question and argues that we must change at least to preserve, which may mean things cannot remain the same. Shelter, learning, teaching, toll using, farming, social living, and language lend to human enhancement. He argues that genetics will just be next in the list.

Harris does acknowledge that anything listed as historical proof of enhancement has been ill used but that does not discount the overall benefit to humans nor does it entail that we not attempt new technologies for enhancement. Just because something may be used improperly, does not mean that it should be abandoned altogether. Also, just because a new technology may not be available to all is not a good argument to abandon it until it can be. Take writing for example, at one time only a few were allowed to learn and slowly it became available to all. The same with certain antibiotics and electronic technologies. Sometimes technologies that advance are produced slowly. This does not mean that it is unjust or will not be available to all at some point later in the future. Just because it is elitist now does not mean that it always will. He then appeals to Richard Dawkins to warn against a "fetish" of sticking to any one evolutionary stage because any static period in our evolutionary past would entail that humans in our current form would not exist. This will be an argument he uses against Kass, Sandel, Annas, and Fukuyama. Evolution is change so why not embrace it instead of arguing that evolution exists but let's do everything possible to keep it static now. Lastly, he argues that we should take the dangers seriously but without knowledge of how probably or serious the dangers are against the probability and size of the benefits, we have to rational basis for either precaution or enthusiasm. Is ceasing to be human in the way we know now truly problematic?

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