Too Good for this World: Moral Bioenhancement and the Ethics of Making Moral Misfits

Article Summary by Katherine Ward

Moral bioenhancement is the use of biomedical technologies to alter the moral characteristics of people; it’s the attempt to make people more moral through medical intervention. Some philosophers argue that we have a duty to morally enhance ourselves. We recently struggled to cooperate during a pandemic—to shift our behavior to lessen the risk of serious illness and death to some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. Similarly, we seem unable to marshal an adequate response to climate change in part because we do not feel the full weight of the moral consequences of a shifting climate in the long-term or for people and communities far-away from us. What if we could just recalibrate our moral compasses? Increase our moral sensitivity? There are many objections to the suggestion that we respond to our moral failings through medical intervention. In this article, I consider an additional worry. I wonder what might happen to individuals who are morally enhanced, and I suggest that moral enhancement might have disastrous effects for them. I adapt the disability concept of misfit to show how moral enhancement could cause extreme moral disempowerment to those enhanced. Those who are morally enhanced might feel keenly the pull of their enhanced moral sensitivities and be impelled to act in response, but be called to an end that is impossible to achieve. The result would be moral injury—an experience prevalent among healthcare workers (especially during the pandemic) and to soldiers returning from war.


Read the full article on the Medical Humanities journal website.


Katherine Ward is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Bucknell University, specializing in phenomenology, feminist epistemology, and bioethics. Her recent research includes work on Merleau-Ponty and the disability concept of “misfitting,” and she recently finished a project on phenomenological methodology and standpoint epistemology titled Standpoint Phenomenology:  Methodologies of Breakdown, Sign, and Wonder (forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan).

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