Ninth International Summer School on Mind, Brain and Education

2014 July 31 - August 03

Body, Brain and
Personal Identity: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

Directors: Antonio M. Battro, Kurt W. Fischer and Fernando Vidal
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani

Abstract: Yechiel Michael Barilan
School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, ISRAEL

Fearful of ourselves, yearning for salvation: The moral enhancement discourse as a secular revival of Gnosticism
This paper criticizes the discourse on “moral enhancement”, with special attention given to Persson’s and Savulescu’s vision of an imperative to morally enhance humanity. It is argued that the notion of “moral enhancement” is conceptually vague and inconsistent with both moral theory and research in anthropology, psychology and neuroscience.
The conceptual ambiguity of “moral enhancement” is examined from two different perspectives. The first is a “bottom-up” approach, which aims at identifying “fundamental moral traits” and “subcapacities” as targets for enhancement. The second, the “top-down” approach, is holistic and in line with virtue ethics. Both perspectives will lead to the observation that alterations of the material and social conditions are the most reliable means to improve pro-social behavior overall.
It is also argued that visions of “moral enhancement” have attracted much attention because they are cast very similarly to Christian and Gnostic narratives on the allegedly fallen status of human nature and its search for salvation.
The combination of religious idioms with unclear metaphysical and epistemological explication may result in enterprises of “moral enhancement”, without independent and coherent standards by which it might be possible to evaluate such enterprises and their outcomes. Every group of people responsible for a program of “moral enhancement” will actually project its own values and desired behavior on others.