The Basis of Human Moral Status

When philosophers consider what moral status human beings have, they tend to find themselves either supporting the idea that not all human beings are rightholders or adopting what Peter Singer calls a ‘speciesist’ position, where speciesism is defined as morally favoring a particular species – in this case, human beings – over others without sufficient justification. In this paper, I develop what I call the ‘genetic basis for moral agency’ account of rightholding, and I propose that this account can allow all human beings to be rightholders without being speciesist. While my aim is to set out this account clearly rather than to defend it, I explain how this account is different from a potentiality account and I argue that it is preferable to an actual moral agency account of human moral status. [Journal of Moral Philosophy 7(2) 2010: 159-179] [pdf | html]

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Aug 27th, 2008 | By | Category: Ethics, Latest Research

7 comments
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  1. Dear Matthew,
    just got to know your name from the list published on line (The Oxford Center for Neuroethics).
    Hello! My name is Adriana, from Rome, Italy.

    I have downloaded some of your recent articles. Will read it carefully.

    I am a neuroradiologist (clinical) and deeply concerned about the increasing use of fMNR in all kinds of situations (natural or provoked for strange experiments).

    The idea of a moral enhancement to me is a nightmare..
    Well, may be I should know more about it.

    Any suggestion (articles, books, links, etc.), dear Matthew?

    Thanks so much and keep up the good work!

    Take care,

    adriana
    P.S. Can not post any comment now since I am not familiar with your research work yet! Sorry!

  2. Dear Adriana,

    Thank you for your interest in my work. As a starter regarding moral enhancement and other related issues, you might try a recent volume in the Journal of Applied Philosophy that I had just co-edited on the ethics of enhancement. See http://ethics-etc.com/2008/07/31/a-special-issue-on-the-ethics-of-enhancement/ for more information.

    I hope this is useful.

    Best,
    Matthew

  3. Dear Matthew,
    thanks so much for your suggestion.
    I have just looked up the Journal you co-edited and found excellent articles!

    Ciao!

    adriana

  4. Dear Matthew,
    hello, how are you doing these days? Hope you remember me. Not long ago, you suggested that I read the Journal of Applied Philosophy, August 2008, N° 3, Vol.25 and I did more! I became a member of the Society and received 4 issues (200): I also receive infos on meetings, etc.
    Well, to make it short, I would like to ask a few questions, if I may.
    As far as moral enhancement is concerned, also reading T.Douglas’s paper, it seems to me that the use of pharmaceuticals to manipulate emotions is quite distant in time. I do not know if this will ever be feasible. We have already some good drugs that could be applied to pathological and violent behavior (but this is frank pathology!). To me, and I believe to many, human moral behavior is so sophisticated and the contexts where human judgment applied so varied that it is very unlikely that a medical intervention may in fact make a significant difference (a part from overt moral behavioural deficits). What is your opinion? Thanks.
    Also: what do you think of linking moral enhancement to cognitive enhancement? Would this be a rule?In any case or in selected cases? And what about using only moral enhancement per se?
    Other forms of moral enhancement apart from drugs: surgical (intracranial) and genetic, I understand.
    Do you know of any possible or experimental ones?
    Sorry, such a lengthy comment, but I am becoming acquainted with the theme and is fascinating.
    Just sent an abstract to participate in a workshop in Rome on moral cognition and behavior.
    Thanks so much, dear Matthew. waiting for your stimulating reply. You have an excellent website.
    My compliments.
    Ciao!

    adriana

  5. Hi Adriana,

    I’m pleased to learn that you join the Society for Applied Philosophy. It’s a very good society. Per your queries, I’ll try to respond to some of them.

    You said:
    “As far as moral enhancement is concerned, also reading T.Douglas’s paper, it seems to me that the use of pharmaceuticals to manipulate emotions is quite distant in time. I do not know if this will ever be feasible . . . human moral behavior is so sophisticated and the contexts where human judgment applied so varied that it is very unlikely that a medical intervention may in fact make a significant difference (a part from overt moral behavioural deficits).”

    You are definitely right that we should be cautious about claiming that a particular pharmaceutical intervention can definitely get us a particular emotion/behavior. This said, as I indicated in my paper, there is evidence that certain pharmaceutical interventions can make it more likely that we experience certain emotions and also make us disposed to act in certain ways. Take Prozac, for example. It’s well documented that people use it not only for depression, but also to make themselves happier.

    You asked?
    “what do you think of linking moral enhancement to cognitive enhancement? Would this be a rule?In any case or in selected cases? And what about using only moral enhancement per se?”

    I don’t know what you mean by ‘a rule.’ But one might question whether ‘behaving morally’ is the same thing as ‘acting morally.’

    You asked:
    “Do you know of any possible or experimental ones?”

    I think Tom’s paper gives some experimental evidence for the claim that moral enhancement is possible.

    I hope these points are of some use.

  6. Dear Matthew,
    again, thank you so much for your nice reply. And quick, also!
    You agree with me on being caution when using certain pharmaceuticals and this helps me, obviously.

    I was misleading on other questions, sorry. I will try again, please forgive me!

    It seems to me that Julian Savulescu, in his paper, refers to the use of moral enhancers in association with cognitive ones. Do you think this is a set rule? Or we may use moral enhancers without the cognitive ones? I was just trying to follow what seemed to me some instructions in understanding the meaning on biotechnological moral enhancement.

    Also: Are there some other means of morally enhance people apart from some pharmaceuticals, genetic and cerebral intervention? That you know of? Just a curiosity.

    Wander if you have looked at the BMA document on enhacement.

    Need to be brief, do not intend to bother you.
    Thanks a lot, have a nice week end, dear Matthew.
    adriana

  7. Dr. Liao, I’ve really enjoyed absorbing myself in your work lately and I think you make the best available case to ground the equal moral status of all (or virtually all) human organisms. However, ultimately, I don’t find the genetic basis for moral agency to be very intuitive. As you’ve pointed out, it may be impossible to make a non-circular argument defending why a certain criteria for moral status is the correct one. Given that, do you have other ways of explaining your view that you’ve found useful in highlighting why it is intuitive to you?

    Warmly,
    Deanna