Enhancing Human Capacities

I am broaching – and over the next week or two will be reading – a huge collection of essays edited by Julian Savulescu, Ruud ter Meulen, and Guy Kahane: Enhancing Human Capacities (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).

One of the books I’m working on is Humanity Enhanced, under contract to MIT Press, so I’m updating my reading in the field … and this volume edited by Savulescu, ter Meulen, and Kahane is now one of the must-reads in the literature.

I expect to be commenting on various chapters quite frequently as I work my way through and digest the arguments.

Most of the book arises from presentations at workshops organised in Europe a few years ago under the ENHANCE project (full title, Enhancing Human Capacities: Ethics, Regulation and European Policy). This seems to have led to an exciting, comprehensive … and daunting … collection.

[Pssst … you really, really should check out my Amazon author page.]

  1. Enhancement of human capacity is a noble goal, as long as: a) it does not diminish human capacities at the expense of others – i.e., avoid clever devils; b) we do not build a society of “untermensh and ubermensh”; c) transhumanist ethical goals should not leave anyone behind that does not choose to be; and, d) tolerance of all perspectives on human growth respected.


  2. With regards to point d, i.e., “tolerance of all perspectives on human growth respected”, it would need to subject to those perspectives that do not violate points a,b or c. In that respect it means there is no requirement to tolerate the intolerant.

    I would also clarify that point a is meant to apply to the complete set of human capacities. We should be cautious to enhance some capacities to such an extent that other capacities are atrophied (or removed). E.g., if we insist man has no free (since we do not understand consciousness fully) then we may choose an enhancement path that produces automatons.

  3. Typo: “if we insist man has no free will”

  4. Also (perhaps this is useful). A bibliography on the ethics of enhancing human capacities… http://www.ise.ox.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/20582/human_enhance.pdf

  5. Russell:
    What part does good old fashioned eugenics play in this?

  6. Noble idea. The purpose must also be noble.

  7. The book cover art is not too inspiring; Leonardo’s ‘Man as the Center of the Universe’ trapped inside a drug capsule. Is this how human capacities get enhanced? If so, it should make the drug companies happy.

  8. Michael, many people will draw analogies between good old fashioned eugenics and things like human reproductive cloning. Whether you think it’s a good analogy will depend, in part, on what you think was wrong with the “good” old fashioned eugenics.

Leave a Comment

NOTE - You can use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>