Bioconservatism, bioenhancement and backfiring

/ 1 April 2019 | Journal of Moral Education / By Tamara Kayali Browne and Steve Clarke /


The prospect of enhancing ourselves through the use of new biotechnologies is for the most part, hypothetical. Nevertheless, the question of whether we should undertake such enhancement is worthy of discussion as it may become possible in the future. In this article, we consider one form of argument that conservative opponents of biotechnological means of enhancement (bioconservatives) deploy in opposition to the use of enhancement technologies—the backfiring objection. This is the objection that the use of such technologies is liable to go wrong and lead to outcomes that are inferior to the outcomes intended. We will argue that the objection is not nearly as significant as bioconservatives suppose it to be. Bioconservatives sometimes supplement the backfiring objection by arguing that change will be irreversible, that the new (or the unconventional) is especially liable to backfire and that humans possess severe and permanent limitations which cannot be overcome. We consider these ways of supplementing the backfiring objection and argue that each of them, when properly understood, is of limited value to the bioconservative. We also consider how traditional approaches to moral education can be supplemented by bioenhancement.

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