Nietzsche and the Morality of Liberal Eugenics

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Ethical debates about liberal eugenics frequently focus on the supposed unnaturalness of its means and its supposed harm to autonomy, an emphasis that leads into irresolvable disputes about human nature, free will, and identity. In this paper I draw on Nietzsche’s work to critique eugenics’ ends rather than its means, as harm to abilities, rather than to autonomy. I first critique subjective eugenics, the selection of extrinsically valuable traits, using Nietzsche’s notion of ‘slavish’ forms of evaluation: values reducible to the negation of another’s good. Subjective eugenics slavishly evaluates traits in comparison to a negatively evaluated norm, disguising an intention to diminish the norm – for example, increasing one child’s intelligence by relatively decreasing everyone else’s. Even seemingly non-comparative selection of traits like eye color depend on negative comparison. Valued either for rarity or group identity, they devalue norm in its commonness or difference. Next, I argue there is no objective form of eugenics on the Nietzschean grounds that abilities are not valuable intrinsically, but only given the power to exercise them. Abilities frustrated by conflict with other abilities or one’s environment are harmful, while disabilities that empower one’s other abilities are beneficial. Consequently, all supposedly objective forms of eugenics are subject to the previous ethical critique of subjective eugenics. Because, like evolutionary fitness, the complementary fit of traits and environment that produces power is accidental and unpredictable, human wellbeing is maximized through the conservation of a diversity of types, rather than through active improvement.
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