Don't mind the gap: intuitions, emotions, and reasons in the enhancement debate

Hastings Center Report 45 (5):39-47 (2015)
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Reliance on intuitive and emotive responses is widespread across many areas of bioethics, and the current debate on biotechnological human enhancement is particularly interesting in this respect. A strand of “bioconservatives” that has explicitly drawn connections to the modern conservative tradition, dating back to Edmund Burke, appeals explicitly to the alleged wisdom of our intuitions and emotions to ground opposition to some biotechnologies or their uses. So-called bioliberals, those who in principle do not oppose human bioenhancement, tend to rely on rational arguments and to see intuitions and emotions mostly as sources of biases. This approach often translates into shifting the burden of proof onto bioconservatives and challenging them to provide arguments against the proposed enhancement to back what bioliberals perceive as merely intuitive, emotive, and irrational reactions. -/- In this article, I am going to show that the methodological divide between bioliberals and bioconservatives is less significant than at first glance it appears to be and less significant than it is often taken to be. I will do so by defending two theses. The first is that reliance on intuitions and emotions is not a prerogative of bioconservatives: bioliberals have their typical intuitions and emotive responses and are for this reason exposed to potential biases in the same way as bioconservatives are. The second thesis is that reliance on intuitions and emotions is not necessarily antithetic to reason and rationality. This latter thesis has been philosophically defended with particular reference to the debate on biotechnologies, while the former is perhaps more controversial and more difficult to accept—at least for bioliberals. In both cases, I will support the claims by drawing on resources from the field of moral psychology and the sciences of the mind and, particularly, by applying to some positions in the enhancement debate recent findings about the role of intuitions and emotions in human moral assessment. This new empirically informed perspective holds promises for solving the methodological controversy between bioconservatives and bioliberals, thus enabling proper dialogue and debate between the two sides.

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Alberto Giubilini
Università degli Studi di Milano (PhD)


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