Enhancement, Authenticity, and Social Acceptance in the Age of Individualism

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Public attitudes concerning cognitive enhancements are significant for a number of reasons. They tell us about how socially acceptable these emerging technologies are considered to be, but they also provide a window into the ethical reasons that are likely to get traction in the ongoing debates about them. We thus see Conrad et al’s project of empirically investigating the effect of metaphors and context in shaping attitudes about cognitive enhancements as both interesting and important. We sketch what we suspect is a central theme that runs through these public attitudes, but that Conrad el al’s paper elides. We were disappointed that they did not more directly explore the efficacy of frames and metaphors associated with the values of authenticity and self-expression. This seems like a missed opportunity. Based on the premise that individualistic values enjoy centrality in Western and especially North American culture (e.g. Taylor 1989), we hypothesize that metaphors and frames informed by those values will be especially effective in shaping public attitudes. That is, when various kinds of novel enhancement are described as allowing people to more fully express themselves, or as helping people overcome obstacles to being authentic and true to their inner sense of themselves, those enhancements will be considered justified, and their use more likely to be viewed as socially acceptable by the public. We support our contention by drawing on work by Elliott (2004, 2011, c.f. Kadlac 2018), and discuss how this study, and others modeled on it, might shed light on our hypothesis.
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Archival date: 2019-04-15
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