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The Non-Rationality of Radical Human Enhancement and Transhumanism

Written by David Lyreskog


The human enhancement debate has over the last few decades been concerned with ethical issues in methods for improving the physical, cognitive, or emotive states of individual people, and of the human species as a whole. Arguments in favour of enhancement, particularly from transhumanists, typically defend it as a paradigm of rationality, presenting it as a clear-eyed, logical defence of what we stand to gain from transcending the typical limits of our species.

If these arguments are correct, it appears that we should in principle be able to make the rational and informed decision to enhance ourselves.

In a paper recently published in Science and Engineering Ethics, however, Dr. Alex McKeown and I argue that a rational and informed choice to enhance oneself may be impossible if the enhancement gives rise to a ‘transformative experience’(LA Paul, 2014). Our argument rests on three premises:

(P1) Any choice is only normatively rational if sufficient substantial information

is being considered by the choosing agent;

(P2) Transformative experiences by definition are such that sufficient substantial information cannot be accessed before making a decision leading to having that experience;

(P3) Human enhancements can constitute and/or give rise to transformative experiences.

The conclusion we draw is that (C) it can in some cases be in principle impossible for an agent to make the normatively rational decision to enhance oneself.

The article can be accessed in its entirety via Open Access here.

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4 Comment on this post

  1. Certainly, on one level, rationality is a consideration. And, as another thinker—whom I am beginning to understand—has said: I am not out to win any popularity contests. There are different and separate realities for different sorts of people. Are there any of them that amount to abominations? It depends on whether one believes in value judgments and whether any of those judgments have, uh, value. Religious texts speak to abominations but I am not here concerned with those assertions; not operating from that base camp. Briefly, transhumanism does not , for me, rise to a level of usefulness.
    This should not seem radical, coming from someone who opposes some of the aspirations of the AI community. With the faculty of rationality comes the ability to rationalize, and with that, the position: if we can do it, we will. Ethics and morality get turned aside, in the face of interests,preferences and motives. This is why I hold religion unaccountable. And don’t mind doing so. Admonitions against abomination have not stopped such before.
    That is all I care to say about this.

  2. I seem to continually upset people. One blogger complained when I quietly critiqued an eastern tradition—told me to leave him alone. Thing was, there, my remarks were not subject to discussion or dissent. The blog’s comments section is not open to publication or criticism. I have also remarked on a treatise concerning interdisciplinarianism, voicing dissension about that. Can’t wait for the firestorm that will accompany it! Short-speakingly, pragmatism appears painfully out-of-vogue. Missed a Zoom session on consciousness, because of internet disability. Well. Stuff happens. See,I
    don’t mind people jealously guarding their ideological views; their propositional attitudes. I am just not supportive of dogma or doctrine of any sort.
    This is not rocketry. Not even math or physics. Does it have anything to do with transhumanism? Yes, it does. Build the field; they will come…

  3. I read, again, the three premises. This led me to a comparison, involving the transformative powers of mind-altering substances—with which my own experience is limited. Saying that, it boils down to : if you have not been there, done that, and experienced an outcome, you can’t know what you may have missed, lost or gained, if anything at all. Given my own Jamesean/Rortian pragmatism, it follows I am not pro-transhumanist. This is consistent with my opposition to extended emphasis on AI and other notions of progress in a technocracy, intent on running amok.

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