Ethical Issues in Moral and Social Enhancement

  • Anna Pacholczyk

Student thesis: Phd


Recent developments in social neuroscience have stirred up increased interest within the bioethical debate (for a review see: Specker et al. 2014). Moral enhancement is a concept that directly embodies the idea of making brain science work for the social and moral good. In recent ethical discussions about biomedical means of moral enhancement, scholars have focused on so called 'direct means of moral enhancement,' discussing the ethical permissibility of modifying the emotional underpinnings of moral behaviour (Douglas, 2008; 2013; Persson and Savulescu, 2008; Savulescu and Persson, 2012). However, critics have argued that such modification only seems like moral enhancement, that behavioural modification is not 'true' moral enhancement, for the reason that it changes behaviours without making agents better moral agents. Critics have also noted that it can undermine freedom (e.g. Harris, 2011; see also: Douglas, 2014). This thesis addresses the ethical issues relating to enhancement. In the first part of this work I consider conceptual issues surrounding the concept of moral enhancement and argue that moral enhancement is plausible if we adjust our expectations to match those we have of cognitive enhancement. I examine the difference between pro-sociality and morality, and argue that an increase in empathy and reduction in anger cannot be seen as straightforward moral enhancements. The second part examines the objections related to moral disagreement, medicalization and narrative identity. The third part of this work focuses of the issues related to freedom and agency. I argue that voluntary direct emotion modulation, if embedded in appropriate reflection, is a prima facie desirable way of moral enhancement.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSoren Holm (Supervisor) & John Harris (Supervisor)


  • bioethics
  • enhancement
  • emotion regulation
  • moral enhancement

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