Are drugs or democracy our bulwark against the apocalypse?

A new book by bioethicists Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu, Unfit for the Future, fills in the case for biomedical moral enhancement which they have sketched out in recent journal articles. They argue that the double threats of global cataclysms caused by climate change or war are a call for urgent innovation.

At the moment, liberal democracy is generally regarded as humanity’s bulwark against the Apocalypse. But, they say, “as things stand today, it seems more likely that democracy will bring history to an end in a different sense: through a failure to mitigate human-induced climate change and environmental degradation. This prospect is bad enough, but increasing scarcity of natural resources brings an increased risk of wars, which, with our weapons of mass destruction, makes complete destruction only too plausible.”

Their solution is “moral bioenhancement” through drugs, genetic engineering or neuroscience.

“We are at the early stages of such research, but there are few cogent philosophical or moral objections to the use of specifically biomedical moral enhancement – or moral bioenhancement. In fact, the risks we face are so serious that it is imperative we explore every possibility of developing moral bioenhancement technologies – not to replace traditional moral education, but to complement it. We simply can’t afford to miss opportunities. We have provided ourselves with the tools to end worthwhile life on Earth forever.”

An extract from Savulescu and Persson’s book is available at the on-line magazine Philosophy Now. It comes with a warm commendation from Peter Singer: “"I welcome this book's call for research into the full array of ways of making us morally better.”

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