You don't need to be signed in to read BMJ Blogs, but you can register here to receive updates about other BMJ products and services via our Group site.

The moral bioenhancement of psychopaths

18 Apr, 17 | by miriamwood

Guest Post: Elvio Baccarini and Luca Malatesti

Paper: The Moral Bioenhancement of Psychopaths

We argue that the prescription of mandatory moral bioenhancement (from now on MB) of psychopaths is justified because it satisfies the requirement of public reason as elaborated in political philosophy. This is the requirement that a moral or political prescription should be justifiable to all those persons over whom the prescription purports to have authority.

We maintain that, in this case, a notion of open justification is appropriate to state the requirement of public reason. An open justification of a prescription addressed to an agent is a reasoning grounded on premises that consider the system of reasons (such as beliefs, preferences, etc.) of that agent. Thus, it could be said that this type of justification has an internal dimension, given that it considers reasons that are endorsed by the agent. However, an open justification has also an external dimension. This type of justification does not require that the agent is aware or accepts all its inferential steps. It requires, instead, that she would be aware or accept them by reasoning correctly from her system of reasons. Furthermore, we argue that the mandatory MB is openly justified to psychopaths.

We are aware of the controversies about the MB of psychopaths that stem from empirical and theoretical issues concerning the robustness of the construct of psychopathy and the validity of different diagnostic measure, the specific nature of their differences with non-psychopathic agents and the availability of safe and reliable biomedical treatments.  We think, however, that it is meaningful investigating the moral significance of the application of present or proximate future scientific research on the enhancement of individuals with antisocial conditions.

In conformity with the notion of open justification that we advocate, the justification should be inferable from the psychopaths’ system of reasons. We maintain that the system of reasons of psychopaths include reasons for living in well-functioning cooperative societies and micro-societies. In fact, they have some minimal means-end rational capacity that involves acting based on certain considerations. We can mention items such as parasitic lifestyle, conning manipulative, and failure to fulfil work and other social obligations, pathological lying that require the exercise of this minimal level of rationality. Thus, these behaviours manifest, at least implicitly, that psychopaths have a reason to prefer that people with whom they cooperate perform a level of social cooperation by generally following some social rules, like truth-telling, not manipulating, not insensibly causing harms to other people, and so on. In addition, in our article we adduce some evidence for maintaining that psychopaths manifest more explicitly their interests in the existence of a cooperative society. Psychopaths, for instance, resent being treated unfairly and manipulated.

The psychopath, thus, has reasons for not wanting to cooperate with other psychopaths in activities related to his projects. Consequently, we argue that he has reasons to support mandatory interventions that implement or strengthen up, to a needed level, the capacities for cooperation in other psychopaths. Amongst these interventions figures MB. With an argument that is inspired by the Kantian rule of universalization that requires that when one directs a prescription to others, she should apply the same prescription to herself, if she shares with them the relevant characteristics. For instance, if Alf requires punishing Betty because she has stolen something, if he steals something he must accept a similar punishment, unless he can justify to others that the two cases are relevantly different. Let us apply this rule to mandatory MB. Given the psychopaths’ reasons for cooperating only with subjects without antisocial psychopathic traits, we suggest that any psychopath has reasons to support the application of MB to other psychopathic agents with whom he must (cannot avoid to) cooperate. But, then, the rule of universalization justifies the extension of the prescription to him, because he shares the relevant characteristics with other psychopaths.

In our article, we address also a series of important philosophical objections to our reasoning that differently articulate worries concerning its possible paternalistic and authoritarian dimensions.

By submitting your comment you agree to adhere to these terms and conditions
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

Latest from JME

Latest from JME

Blogs linking here

Blogs linking here