December 3, 2010

John Shook: "Philosophical Challenges for a Neuroscience of Moral Enhancements" [CFI conference on biomedical enhancement]

John Shook of the Center for Inquiry is speaking about Philosophical Challenges for a Neuroscience of Moral Enhancements.

What would a moral enhancer do? May mean making a person more 'moral.' Or like a mood enhancer, changing one's inner sense of moral qualities. Or sensitivity to situations. Or wanting to do the right thing more often. But this doesn't necessarily imply a change to conduct. Other fears and desires can have similar effects on behavior.

Issue: Matching internal and external moral standards. Two different things: What I believe is moral, what someone else believes is moral.

Fine tuning of moral enhancers may be required, creating a "boutique" style of moral enhancers. May not represent genuine cases of moral enhancement. These are internal objective standards. We have to go outside to get better moral standards.

Objectivism is one path. Still people will pass their own judgement.

Should we adhere to the majority opinion? Where does culture agree on such things? Can we agree that certain conduct is impermissible? Cultural conventionalism as a way to inform morality.

But what about something like generosity? Do we really mean it?

So objectivism and cultural conventionalism are unsatisfactory.

Perhaps we need a combination of subjectivism and conventionalism.

But what items/subjects are worthy of moral consideration? Sports? Religion? Boutique modifications may not adhere to conventional opinions on what is morally acceptable.

Moral enhancement: How might it actually be done? Could be done in several ways.

  1. get the right moral answer
  2. enhance judgement of situations morally
  3. enhance deliberation of doing the morally right thing
  4. enhance the motivation choice to do what moral deliberation indicates
  5. enhance volitional power to do the morally right thing
  6. enhance the capacity of the act [external]

Problem, there may be no objective, definable moral judgments to begin with. Objective morality exists nowhere. And what are conscious intentions? Are they epiphenomenal? What mechanism in the brain executes the decision? Will and free will?

Brain science discovered will better inform and answer the objections. Outdated notions of decision and volition need to be discarded from the discussion.

Intentionality types; factors for free will:

  1. Intentional causality (executive)
  2. Deliberate intentionality
  3. Thoughtful control (rational)

Do philosophers exaggerate the role that reason plays in decision making? Neuroscientific advances will improve our idea of this and what we mean to be moral agents.

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