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📙 Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People by John Harris — download pdf


The attitude we take toward human enhancement is one of the biggest policy choices we face in the coming years but it's one that rarely recieves any serious analysis. Harris, therefore, deserves credit not only for calling this issue to our attention but also approaching it in a rational objective fashion instead of relying on the eww factor or the emotional appeal of enhancement. Unfortunately the book soon becomes rather repetitive. Each new chapter seems to do little than provide a new setting in which to propound his main points. These include: 1) Their is no principled distinction to be drawn between enhancement and things like vaccinations or preventative measures against cancer as both give us abilities we lack. 2) There is no principled reason to distinguish enhancement via good parenting and good schools from genetic enhancement. If we aren't willing to demand that rich parents/countries give up the permanent advantages arising from proper childhood nutrition we shouldn't treat the permanent advantages from genetic modification any differently. 3) Worries about safety and harmful side effects are reasons to proceed with caution and analyze individual proposals carefully but don't justify blanket rejection of the program of producing better humans. Frankly the book gets boring quickly because the most visible opponents of genetic enhancement don't have an interesting responses to these points. Sandel seems to rely on confusing and vaguely worded polemics to defend what he is 'sure' must be right (and most philosophy grads I've asked can't decode a cogent argument from his stuff) and Habermas (sp?) is little better. Ultimately it seems to largely come down to the question of whether you take common negative reaction to the idea of enhancement to be decisive and only then try to build a theory around that or you take a more utilitarian/consequentialist approach and try to reach an answer from those principles. While the book does illuminate this divide there is little it can do to advance the argument after the first few chapters. If you haven't thought of the issue much at all this book is a good prompt to thought but I don't know if I would read to the end. The only thing I got out of later chapters was a better sense of how people's reaction to this subject interfaces with government decisions in the UK but that's hardly the point of the book.

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