Autonomy and the Ethics of Biological Behaviour Modification

In Akira Akabayashi (ed.), The Future of Bioethics: International Dialogues. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2014)
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Much disease and disability is the result of lifestyle behaviours. For example, the contribution of imprudence in the form of smoking, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and drug and alcohol abuse to ill-health is now well established. More importantly, some of the greatest challenges facing humanity as a whole – climate change, terrorism, global poverty, depletion of resources, abuse of children, overpopulation – are the result of human behaviour. In this chapter, we will explore the possibility of using advances in the cognitive sciences to develop strategies to intentionally manipulate human motivation and behaviour. While our arguments apply also to improving prudential motivation and behaviour in relation to health, we will focus on the more controversial instance: the deliberate targeted use of biomedicine to improve moral motivation and behaviour. We do this because the challenge of improving human morality is arguably the most important issue facing humankind (Persson and Savulescu, forthcoming). We will ask whether using the knowledge from the biological and cognitive sciences to influence motivation and behaviour erodes autonomy and, if so, whether this makes it wrong.

Author Profiles

Julian Savulescu
Oxford University
Thomas Douglas
University of Oxford
Ingmar Persson
Oxford University


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