Why should enhanced and unenhanced humans care for each other?

Ismael Al-Amoudi and Gazi Islam

Introduction: duties of care and solidarity in the age of human enhancement

Outrage erupted in France in 2014 when President François Hollande jokingly referred to the poor as les sans-dents, the toothless. The strength of the public response was tellingly much more acute than any public outrage following the publication of statistics on social inequalities, however damning. Moreover, Hollande’s social and economic policies had been, by and large, more egalitarian than those of his predecessor and successor. A plausible interpretation of this outrage is that Hollande’s joke struck a nerve in a world in which the technology to replace teeth is available though not universally affordable; in which privileged members of society (including the president and his family) had unquestionable access to such technology; and in which the welfare state had withered, partly because of politicians' political choices. Outrage was exacerbated by the fact that Hollande's plaisanterie insulted the bodies, appearance and charm of those who could not afford dental treatment. The latter’s smiles had become the stigma of their social destitution while a president smiling with perfect teeth joked about them. Indeed, while losing teeth had been a common fate of kings and paupers for millennia, it ceased to be so in the twentieth century. And while Hollande’s joke has now been relegated to the faits divers section of political history, it might also be indicative of an epochal social drift between those humans who can afford to enhance their bodies through technological means and those who cannot.

Recent advances in technology threaten to blur and displace the biological constituents of our shared humanity (for broad surveys, see Hurlbut & Tirosh-Samuelson 2016, Stapleton & Byers 2015). Biological engineering already allows us to intervene into processes of biological evolution that prevailed for about 4 billion years. In theory, and increasingly in practice, we are capable of transforming human physiologies, immune systems and life expectancies but also human intellectual and emotional capacities. Cyborg engineering is also well under way in the scientific and popular imagination (e.g., Czarniawska & Gustavsson 2008, Krautwurst 2007). We are now surrounded with miniature mobile devices that extend our powers of communication, computation, memorization and perception (smartphones, laptops, hearing aids, cloud storage, etc.) While these devices are still separable from our body, connected implants are increasingly in use. The latter include therapeutic devices such as thought-operated bionic arms, artificial pancreases, retina implants and bionic ears. But they also include surveillance devices such as intra-dermic microchips that gather data on soldiers and prisoners for the alleged protection of themselves and society (see Lazega 2015). And new diugs have been designed to enhance human cognitive capacities but also emotional well-being and socially praised behaviour.

The range of technologies covered by the expression ‘human enhancement' is to an extent open to interpretation. Indeed, age-old devices such as walking sticks, books, artificial teeth, spectacles and more generally tools could be considered human enhancements: they enhance the powers of human beings to walk, remember, chew, see and act on the world. But these enhancements, with the exception perhaps of artificial teeth, are externally fixed to the human body. They supplement but do not substitute for biological functions and, more to the point, they do not disrupt the boundaries of what is conventionally considered to be the human body.

The technological advances that interest us in the present chapter are restricted to those human enhancements that are internally embedded within their carrier’s body. To say that A is internally related to B means that A’s identity depends on its relation to B (Bhaskar 1998). Classic examples of internal relations comprise student-teacher or tenant-landlord relations (Lawson 1997). One important ontological implication of internal relations is that the related elements constitute a totality which is endowed with emergent powers that are distinct from the powers of constituent parts. In the case of human enhancement, this means that the enhanced body is transformed to the point of transgressing (however marginally) its former shape, boundaries and identity. Another implication is that enhanced humans become dependent on their enhancements beyond the point where they can relish their enhancement without losing their sense of self. Thus, while walking sticks usually do not constitute human enhancements by our definition, prosthetic legs do so, especially after their carrier has gone through full rehabilitation.

The production and dissemination of human enhancements raises numerous ethical questions relative to their carriers’ dignity, their distribution’s fairness, their production's political economy and so forth. In the present chapter, we examine the moral obligations of enhanced humans (thereafter EH) towards unenhanced humans (UH) and vice versa.

The questions we ask

We discuss three related questions. First, what motives might tempt EH to refrain from caring for UH and vice versa? Second, what reasons, if and when considered fully, should nonetheless incite EH to care for UH and vice versa? And third, what social and organizational arrangements are likely to enable and encourage relations of care (rather than exploitation or destruction) between EH and UH?

Our argument’s structure is simple and follows closely the three questions above. First, we examine a number of reasons why we could and should

Why care for each other? 119 reasonably expect (all or most) EH to fail to care for (any or some) UH. Then we argue that these reasons do not hold sway in the face of - equally important though less immediately visible - reasons for EH to care for UH. Although it may not be in EH's perceived self-interest to care for UH and vice versa, it is in the enlightened self-interest of both groups to do so. Finally, we argue that EH's false consciousness about their interest depends in large part on the organization of the communities in which they will grow, learn, live and die. We conclude our chapter with a few suggestions regarding existing threats and missing institutions for communities in which humans of various levels of enhancement nonetheless care for each other.

Our philosophical framework

Our argument is rooted in the realist virtue ethics developed by Alisdair MacIntyre, especially in his recent book Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues (MacIntyre 2009/1999). We have chosen this book for two reasons: first, because it raises questions of solidarity both across species and across moral subjects endowed with differing needs and powers; and second, because we find it congruent with our own (critically realist) intuitions.

MacIntyre’s central argument is that human beings of various levels of ability must care for each other precisely because they are endowed with virtues, that is, with qualities of mind and character that enable them both to recognize the relevant goods and to use the relevant skills in realizing these goods. In turn, human virtues are improved through their continuous exercise, thus altruistic acts also result in indirect benefits for the person who performed them (MacIntyre 2009/1999).

Our chapter’s central argument is similar to MacIntyre’s in many respects as we endeavour to demonstrate that it is in the well-considered self-interest of both EH and UH to care for each other. We shall be confronted, however, with a number of difficulties that arise from widening the scope of MacIntyre's discussion to include questions of human enhancement. In particular, we shall discuss how human enhancement disrupts the sense of a human community, sufficiently homogeneous to command solidarity, on which MacIntyre’s argument rests.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >