One of my recent posts at Talking Philosophy, “What is this thing called called enhancement?”, is among a number discussed in a New York Times “Opinionator” article on newsworthy items by philosophers. My piece is one of a number that touch on the tricky subject of human enhancement technologies.
I should say, though, that the author has slightly misunderstood a point that I make. The Opinionator article says:
While sympathetic to the idea [that there is no meaningful difference between therapy and enhancement] as far as it goes, Blackford points out that the question of “enhancement” ultimately refers us back to the classic problem of “the good life.” And when conflicts arise between rival conceptions of the good life in liberal societies, where there is no agreement on such a standard, and the good life is typically seen as a purely individual matter, it’s “not so obvious that the state can be neutral.”
That’s not quite my view, and the difference is important. My general view is that the state can, at least to a large extent, be neutral about conceptions of the good life. There may be grey areas where the state is more or less forced to take a stand on values, but even if so it can usually do so in a way that leaves considerable scope for individuals to disagree and live their lives in defiance of whatever values the state might be endorsing (explicitly or tacitly). I talk about this in Freedom of Religion and the Secular State. Thus, I favour liberalism in the broad Millian sense of non-interference by the state in individuals’ experiments in living.
My point in the Talking Philosophy piece was simply that it’s not so clear when children are involved. Adults may have conceptions of the good life that appear self-restricting or even self-destructive, and perhaps the state should butt out (my general view is that it should, though doubtless some limits and caveats are needed). What is not so clear is that the state can allow these conceptions of the good to be imposed by parents on children. Thus, what I actually said was:
Savulescu and his colleagues are political liberals, and they think that the state should defer to individuals’ conceptions of their own good, or well-being. Generally speaking, I agree. But it looks like there might be limits to this, and in any event decisions are often made by parents about children. It’s not so obvious that the state can be neutral, or anything like it, when these sorts of decisions are involved.
Not a biggie, but worth clarifying I think.