27 July 2012

Moral enhancement

Julian Savalescu and Ingmar Persson write:
Modern technology provides us with many means to cause our downfall, and our natural moral psychology does not provide us with the means to prevent it. The moral enhancement of humankind is necessary for there to be a way out of this predicament. If we are to avoid catastrophe by misguided employment of our power, we need to be morally motivated to a higher degree (as well as adequately informed about relevant facts). A stronger focus on moral education could go some way to achieving this, but as already remarked, this method has had only modest success during the last couple of millennia. Our growing knowledge of biology, especially genetics and neurobiology, could deliver additional moral enhancement, such as drugs or genetic modifications, or devices to augment moral education.
It's good to see this argument spelled out.  But even if (and I think it may be a big if) "our growing knowledge of biology, especially genetics and neurobiology" can deliver "additional moral enhancement" can they really do so faster than foreseeable breakthroughs in energy technology can (just perhaps) solve the energy/carbon challenge?
So, for example, Benjamin Strauss of Climate Central argues that "Our best hope is some kind of disruptive technology that takes off on its own, the way the Internet and the fax took off."

Note: two recent useful pieces relating relating to the psychology of climate change are Beth's We are all climate change idiots, which notes Robert Gifford analysis of habits of mind he calls the "dragons of inaction", and Atul Gawande's Something wicked this way comes, which is actually about health insurance in the US but notes Albert O. Hirschman's anatomy of reactionary argument in three basic forms: perversity, futility, and jeopardy.

(Image: melting ice on Greenland coast)

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