Project

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Enhancement and Human Perfection

English title Enhancement and Human Perfection
Applicant Biller-Andorno Nikola
Number 141419
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Institut für Biomedizinische Ethik und Medizingeschichte Ethik-Zentrum der Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.05.2012 - 30.04.2015
Approved amount 180'914.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Philosophy
Public Health and Health Services

Keywords (5)

human enhancement; perfection; bioconservatives; bioliberals; transhumanists

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

The term “perfection” is frequently used in current debates about human enhancement. Often, this notion is employed by those who are skeptical about current and anticipated uses of biotechnology (“bioconservatives”): they regard the pursuit of perfection by biotechnological means as morally problematic and argue for its prohibition. However, the notion of perfection is also alluded to by some “transhumanists”, who optimistically endorse the possibilities of biotechnology to enhance human beings. They explicitly defend a vision of perfection that can, in their view, be realized by biotechnological means, and argue that we should become “better than human”.

         Both bioconservatives and transhumanists draw on the concept of perfection, then, in order to argue for or against (certain) enhancements. They thereby assume that (i) enhancement and perfection are conceptually related, and that (ii) the concept of perfection is important for an ethical evaluation of enhancements. By contrast, “bioliberals” deny the conceptual relation between enhancement and perfection, and they argue against using the notion of perfection in the debate about enhancement: it is regarded by them as a notoriously vague notion that distorts rational discussions and is neither helpful nor needed in order to address the ethical questions that are raised by the new possibilities of biotechnology. Furthermore, bioliberals contend that we should not invoke any considerations that derive from specific conceptions of human perfection, because these are necessarily based upon controversial assumptions that are not shared by the members of liberal and pluralistic societies.

         The proposed research project attempts to enter these discussions in order to clarify what, if any, role the concept of perfection has to play in debates about human enhancement. This question has not received any systematic treatment yet, but it helps to raise from a distinct and new perspective questions about the concept of enhancement, about the relevant normative standards for the evaluation of enhancements, and – in a more general vein – about the scope and limits of bioethics.

         It is conjectured that the bioliberals’ agnostic stance towards perfection can be proven to be untenable, which will constitute an important finding that can without doubt initiate and facilitate further discussions between the three main camps – bioconservatives, transhumanists, and bioliberals – in the debate. At the same time, the project will also contribute to more general discussions about the scope and limits of bioethics, by stressing the importance of debates about ends and ideals that the concept of perfection is supposed to encourage.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Evaluating human enhancements: the importance of ideals
Roduit Johann A R, Baumann Holger, Heilinger Jan-Christoph (2015), Evaluating human enhancements: the importance of ideals, in Monash Bioethics review , -.
Ideas of Perfection and the Ethics of Human Enhancement
Roduit Johann A R, Heilinger Jan-Christoph, Baumann Holger (2015), Ideas of Perfection and the Ethics of Human Enhancement, in Bioethics, 29(9), 622-630.
Book review of: The Ethics of the New Eugenics
Roduit Johann A R (2014), Book review of: The Ethics of the New Eugenics, in Medicine Health Care and Philosophy, 0-0.
Human Enhancement: Living Up to the Ideal Human
Roduit Johann A R, Menuz Vincent, Baumann Holger (2014), Human Enhancement: Living Up to the Ideal Human, in Thompson Steven J (ed.), IGI Global, Hershey, PA, 54-66.
Modifier l'espèce humaine ou l'environnement? Les transhumanistes face à la crise écologique
Dorthe Gabriel, Roduit Johann A R (2014), Modifier l'espèce humaine ou l'environnement? Les transhumanistes face à la crise écologique, in Bioethica Forum, 7(3), 79-86.
Book review of: Transhumanist Dreams and Dystopian Nightmares: The Promises and Peril of Genetic Engineering
Roduit Johann A. R. (2013), Book review of: Transhumanist Dreams and Dystopian Nightmares: The Promises and Peril of Genetic Engineering, in Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, 16(1), 116-117.
Human enhancement and perfection
Roduit Johann A. R., Baumann Holger, Heilinger Jan-Christoph (2013), Human enhancement and perfection, in Journal of Medical Ethics , 1.
Le chat du docteur Frankenstein: modifications biotechnologiques de nos amis les bêtes
Roduit Johann (2013), Le chat du docteur Frankenstein: modifications biotechnologiques de nos amis les bêtes, in Bulletin des médecins suisses , 93(33), 1232-1233.
Book review of: Transhumanism and transcendence: Christian hope in an age of technological enhancement
Roduit Johann A R (2012), Book review of: Transhumanism and transcendence: Christian hope in an age of technological enhancement, in Medicine Health Care and Philosophy, 15(3), 357-360.
Ingénierie ou singeries?
Roduit Johann A R, Menuz Vincent (2012), Ingénierie ou singeries?, in Bulletin des médecins suisses, 24(93), 929-930.
The Case for Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Human Enhancement
Roduit Johann, The Case for Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Human Enhancement, Peter Lang, Frankfurt.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
The American Philosophical Association, Pacific Division, Eighty-ninth annual meeting Talk given at a conference A review of Truly Human Enhancement 01.04.2015 Vancouver , Canada Roduit Johann;
6th Beyond Humanism Conference Conference Talk given at a conference The Morality of Human Enhancement and the Capability Approach 25.09.2014 Mytilini, Lesvos, Greece Roduit Johann;
12th World Congress of Bioethics, International Association of Bioethics Talk given at a conference The ideal human as a guide to human enhancement? 26.06.2014 Mexico City, Mexico Roduit Johann;
2nd international workshop in practical ethics: bioethics and human enhancement Talk given at a conference Enhancing towards the ideal human? A capability approach to assess the morality of human enhancement. 16.06.2014 University of Granada , Spain Roduit Johann;
2nd international workshop in practical ethics: bioethics and human enhancement Talk given at a conference Enhancing towards the ideal human? A capability approach to assess the morality of human enhancement. 16.06.2014 University of Granada , Spain Roduit Johann;
Ockham Society, University of Oxford Individual talk The Capability Approach and Human Enhancement 02.06.2014 University of Oxford, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Roduit Johann;
Swiss Society of Biomedical Ethics: Autum Seminar Talk given at a conference Human enhancement and perfectionist assumptions 07.11.2013 Bigorio, Switzerland Roduit Johann;
The 5th Conference of the Beyond Humanism Conference Series Talk given at a conference Examining underlying perfectionist assumptions found in the debate about the ethics of human enhancement 11.09.2013 Universita' di Roma Tre, Rome, Italy , Italy Roduit Johann;
Swiss Society of Biomedical Ethics: Autumn Seminar Talk given at a conference What does enhancement mean? Distinguishing between a backward and forward looking approach to improvement 08.11.2012 Bigorio, TI, Switzerland, Switzerland Roduit Johann;
Enhancement, Emerging Technologies, and Social Challenges Talk given at a conference The relationship between human enhancement and the idea of perfection. Revisiting definitions in the debate 11.09.2012 Inter-University Center, Dubrovnik, Croatia, Croatia Roduit Johann;
11th World Congress of Bioethics, International Association of Bioethics. Talk given at a conference Revealing the paradoxical perfectionist arguments of bioconservatives in the debate about human enhancement 27.06.2012 Rotterdam, Netherlands Roduit Johann;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
The 2015 Zurich Winter School on the ethics of human enhancement 04.03.2015 University of Zurich , Switzerland

Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
Human enhancement technologies: pushing the boundaries 03.07.2013 Swiss Re Centre for Global Dialogue, Rüschlikon, Switzerland, Switzerland Roduit Johann;
Risk Talk on human enhancement: transcending human limits 02.07.2013 Swiss Re Centre for Global Dialogue, Rüschlikon, Switzerland, Switzerland Roduit Johann;
The ethics of human enhancement: overview of the debate 03.04.2013 University of Basel, Switzerland, Switzerland Roduit Johann;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Der bessere Mensch und die Angst Die Zürcher Studierendenzeitung German-speaking Switzerland 2015
Media relations: print media, online media L’humain augmenté: entre amélioration et déshumanisation L'Hebdo Western Switzerland 2015
Media relations: print media, online media Vers un homme augmenté Tribune de Genève Western Switzerland 2015
Talks/events/exhibitions Demain tous des X-Men? Les enjeux éthiques de l’amélioration humaine Western Switzerland 2014
Media relations: print media, online media Johnny Depp dans Transcendance : peut-on transférer le cerveau d'une personne dans une machine Huffington Post International 2014
Media relations: print media, online media Quand la technologie investit le foot Le Temps Western Switzerland 2014
Media relations: print media, online media Snowden et la Singularité: L’ère du super-ordinateur qui sait tout n’est peut-être plus très loin Le Temps Western Switzerland 2014
Media relations: print media, online media Et si la science-fiction devenait réalité? 24 Heures Western Switzerland 2013
Media relations: print media, online media Géopolitique de l'Homme nouveau Le Temps Western Switzerland 2013
Media relations: print media, online media Jusqu'où peut-on améliorer un être humain? Le Temps Western Switzerland 2013
Media relations: radio, television We really have to think ahead SwissRe Center for Global Dialogue German-speaking Switzerland International 2013
Media relations: print media, online media Die Welt von morgen sollen alle mitgestalten Die Zeitung der Universität Zurich German-speaking Switzerland 2012

Awards

Title Year
Best science blog. Article selected and published in the 2014 Anthology of the best francophone science blogs. J. Roduit. Singularité: ma troisième survie apocalyptique. Pascal Lapointe (Ed.). Editions MultiMondes, 2014. 2014

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
151527 Superhumains.ch? The Next Generations 01.02.2014 Agora
165222 Science Fiction and the Ethics of Human Enhancement 01.12.2015 International short research visits

Abstract

The term "perfection" is frequently used in current debates about human enhancement. Often, this notion is employed by those who are sceptical about current and anticipated uses of biotechnology ("bioconservatives"): they regard the pursuit of perfection by biotechnological means as morally problematic and argue for its prohibition. However, the notion of perfection is also alluded to by "transhumanists", who optimistically endorse the possibilities of biotechnology to enhance human beings. They explicitly defend a vision of perfection that can, in their view, be realized by biotechnological means, and argue that we should become 'better than human'. Both bioconservatives and transhumanists draw on the concept of perfection, then, in order to argue for or against (certain) enhancements. They thereby assume that (i) enhancement and perfection are conceptually related, and that (ii) the concept of perfection is important for an ethical/moral evaluation of enhancements. By contrast, "bioliberals" deny the conceptual relation between enhancement and perfection, and/or they argue against using the notion of perfection in the debate about enhancement: it is regarded by them as a notoriously vague notion that distorts rational discussions and is neither helpful nor needed in order to address the ethical questions that are raised by the new possibilites of biotechnology. Furthermore, bioliberals contend that we should not invoke any considerations that derive from specific conceptions of human perfection, because these are necessarily based upon controversial assumptions that are not shared by the members of liberal and pluralistic societies. The proposed research project attempts to enter these discussions in order to clarify what, if any, role the concept of perfection has to play in debates about human enhancement. This question has not received any systematic treatment yet, but it helps to raise from a distinct and new perspective questions about the concept of enhancement, about the relevant normative standards for the evaluation of enhancements, and - in a more general vein - about the scope and limits of bioethics. It is conjectured that the bioliberals' agnostic stance towards perfection can be proven to be untenable, which will constitute an important finding that can without doubt initate and facilitate further discussions between the three main camps - bioconservatives, transhumanists, and bioliberals - in the debate. At the same time, the project will also contribute to more general discussions about the scope and limits of bioethics, by stressing the importance of debates about ends and ideals that the concept of perfection is supposed to encourage.
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