Human nature and enhancement
Bioethics 2009 March; 23(3): 141-150
Appeals to the idea of human nature are frequent in the voluminous literature on the ethics of enhancing human beings through biotechnology. Two chief concerns about the impact of enhancements on human nature have been voiced. The first is that enhancement may alter or destroy human nature. The second is that if enhancement alters or destroys human nature, this will undercut our ability to ascertain the good because, for us, the good is determined by our nature. The first concern assumes that altering or destroying human nature is in itself a bad thing. The second concern assumes that human nature provides a standard without which we cannot make coherent, defensible judgments about what is good. I will argue (1) that there is nothing wrong, per se, with altering or destroying human nature, because, on a plausible understanding of what human nature is, it contains bad as well as good characteristics and there is no reason to believe that eliminating some of the bad would so imperil the good as to make the elimination of the bad impermissible, and (2) that altering or destroying human nature need not result in the loss of our ability to make judgments about the good, because we possess a conception of the good by which we can and do evaluate human nature. I will argue that appeals to human nature tend to obscure rather than illuminate the debate over the ethics of enhancement and can be eliminated in favor of more cogent considerations.