There are a lot of people out there who would prefer not to die. There are also many people trying to make this a reality by working seriously on the science of life extension. The goal, it would seem, is to reverse (or at least halt) the aging process, and allow us to live indefinitely. Let’s call the people who share this goal the “extensionists”.
In this, the final, part we will do two further things. First, we will step back from the particular arguments for and against the legitimacy of mental illness, and focus on Neil Pickering’s meta-philosophical diagnosis of the problems inherent in the debate. Then, having sharpened our appreciation for the meta-philosophical issues, we will consider what is probably the most recent and widely-discussed attempt to define “illness” in such a way that it (properly) includes mental illnesses: Jerome Wakefield’s Harmful Dysfunction analysis.
This is the second post in a brief series looking at the philosophy of mental illness. As noted in part one, some people are suspicious about the concept of mental “illness”. To call something an illness is to deem it worthy of medical scrutiny and treatment. This makes sense — so they argue — when dealing with things like broken bones, viruses, clotted arteries, bacterial infections, cancerous tumours and so forth. They all involve clear, objectively assessable physical effects and causes. Mental illness is not the same: it involves more nebulous, less tractable effects and causes, ones that are not always open to the same level of objective assessment.
It may be a push, but I think it is fair to say that no branch of modern medicine faces the same existential challenges as psychiatry. To give a sense of the problem, a quick browse through Amazon reveals aplethoraofbooks, many published within the past ten years, that either directly challenge the legitimacy of mental illness, call into question the medicalisation of the mind, or dispute the unholy alliance between “pharma” and psychiatry.
Life expectancy increased dramatically over the course of the 20th century. In the UK and US — to take two obvious examples — it increased by approximately 30 years. Further increases are projected in the future. In addition to this, advances in medical technology are hoped by many, and demanded by some, to dramatically increase lifespan (a subtly different concept from life expectancy) in the coming century. It may soon come to pass that lifespans of 120 to 150 years are no longer confined to the realms of science fiction.
Human beings have long performed sexual acts with artifacts. Ancient religious rituals oftentimes involved the performance of sexual acts with statues, and down through the ages a vast array of devices for sexual stimulation and gratification have been created. Little wonder then that a perennial goal among roboticists and AI experts has been the creation of sex robots (“sexbots”): robots from whom we can receive sexual gratification, and with whom we may even be able achieve an emotional connection.
Historically, the possibility of true meaning in life has been tied to the religious worldview. That is to say: meaning has only been thought possible if there is a supernatural realm in which we can achieve eternal salvation, or from which a divine being bestows meaning upon our mortal human lives. With their rejection of supernaturalism, and its associated religious doctrines, naturalists are forced to abandon this conception of meaning.
Memory Detection Tests (MDTs) are a general class of psychophysiological tests that can be used to determine whether someone remembers a particular fact or datum. The P300 MDT is a type of MDT that relies on a presumed correlation between the presence of a detectable neural signal (the P300 “brainwave”) in a test subject, and the recognition of those facts in the subject’s mind.
Suppose you are an athlete, training for the Olympic games. Your coach enters your changing room one morning and offers you a choice. You can either follow a rigorous training program for the next six months, or you can take a handful of magic pills and take the next six months off. Either way you’ll be prepared for the Olympic games. Which should you choose?
As you may have observed, I’m repeatedly drawn to the enhancement debate. I can’t exactly say why. Prima facie, it doesn’t seem particularly interesting (from an intellectual perspective): after all, who could object to “enhancement”? But, of course, it’s more complicated than that. Indeed, one of the alluring aspects of the debate has to do with the terminology in which it is couched.
If you could take a pill that would make you more moral, would you do it? It sounds attractive. I know that I often fail to be as compassionate or as charitable as I ought to be. If there was some way for me to overcome these moral failings I would be inclined to take it. But if I took, say, a compassion-pill would my actions be tainted thereafter? Would they be less morally commendable than they might otherwise have been?
This post is going to be a, rather self-indulgent, philosophical analysis of a key component of the Star Trek canon: the Kobayashi Maru Test. (Don’t worry, I’ll be explaining for all the naifs out there.) I suppose I should apologise in advance to all those non-Star Trek fans out there, but I recommend persevering with these two entries anyway since I think they contains some interesting material. Then again, I would say that.
Mike McNamee Sports, Vices and Virtues: Morality Plays: Part one of this essay discusses SSAs in general; part two looks at McNamee’s SSA against doping; and part three looks at McNamee’s complaints about the vices of athletes who dope. Just note that although “doping” has a particular meaning in sport, one that may be thought distinct from “performance enhancement”, the terms are used interchangeably in what follows.
Many people are concerned about our size and status in the universe. The universe is mind-bogglingly big, old, empty, and largely inhospitable to life; we are small, short-lived and confined to a remote and humdrum corner of it. This difference in scale is often thought to have some philosophical implications. In particular, it is thought to rob us of significance, meaning and value. But is this right?
A lot of people would like to live forever, or at least for much longer than they currently do. But there is one obvious impediment to this: our biological bodies break down over time and cannot (with current technologies) be sustained indefinitely. So what can be done to avoid our seemingly inevitable demise? For some, like Aubrey de Grey, the answer lies in tweaking and re-engineering our biological bodies. For others, the answer lies in the more radical solution of mind-uploading, or the technological replacement of our current biological bodies.
James lived a life of idle self-indulgence. He gambled, fornicated, drank his fill and ate the finest foods. The quintessential libertine. John, on the other hand, lived a life of charity and self-sacrifice. He worked to improve the lives of others, to relieve suffering, to combat poverty and illness. No doubt James had a good time, but surely John had the more meaningful life?
I’ve occasionally dipped my toe into the literature on the meaning of life and reported back my findings on this blog. I don’t know if anyone has found these reports to be interesting or worthwhile. I worry that my approach to the topic has been too piecemeal and unsystematic, gradually feeling its way into the key debates and concepts, without ever properly sketching out the broad theoretical topography. But perhaps that is the only way one can really learn about a topic like this.
Is life absurd? Should we bother with it? Does it matter either way? Rightly or wrongly, Thomas Nagel’s 1971 article, “The Absurd”, is one of the most celebrated and widely-cited contributions to the literature on these questions. I certainly am struck by how frequently people refer to it in conversations I have with them about this topic. It seems like anyone with even a dim awareness of literature will have heard of Nagel’s piece.
I’ve been meaning to recommend Michael Huemer’s latest book — The Problem of Political Authority — for some time. I don't have much to say about it, except that it is the most comprehensive and tightly-argued defence of political anarchism that I’ve ever come across.It is a book of two halves. In the first half, Huemer looks at the problem of political authority, which he says consists in two sub-problems. The first being the problem of political legitimacy, i.e. does the state have to make certain laws and enforce them by coercion? The second being the problem of political obligation, i.e. do people have an obligation to follow the laws made by the state?
Right now it’s Sunday afternoon. There is large pile of washed, but as yet un-ironed clothes on a seat in my living room. I know the ironing needs to be done, and I’ve tried to motivate myself to do it. Honestly. The ironing board is out, as is the iron, I have lots of interesting things I could watch or listen to while I do the ironing, and I have plenty of free time in which to do it. But instead I’m in my office writing this blog post. Why?
It has oft been observed that people are uneasy about the prospect of advanced enhancement technologies. But what is the cause of this unease? Is there any rational basis to it? I’m currently trying to work my way through a variety of arguments to this effect. At the moment, I’m looking at Saskia Nagel’s article “Too Much of Good Thing? Enhancement and the Burden of self determination”, which appeared a couple of years back in the journal Neuroethics.
Okay, it’s been awhile but at long last I’m going to finish off my series on Michael Hauskeller’s article “Human Enhancement and the Giftedness of Life”. To recap, in this article Hauskeller tries to refine, rehabilitate, and reconstruct Sandel’s giftedness argument against enhancement. I’m covering this as part of an ongoing series of posts looking at hyperagency-based objections to enhancement.
Is there something disturbing about the drive for human enhancement? Is it unwise? Likely to reduce the quality and meaning of our lives? Likely to deprive us of something of great value? Several prominent philosophers argue that it is. Among them is Michael Sandel, who several years back argued that enhancement was unwise because it caused us to lose our appreciation for the giftedness of our lives. More precisely, he challenged proponents of enhancement on the grounds that its pursuit would give rise to a state of hyperagency, i.e. a state in which virtually every aspect of our lives is open to our control and manipulation.
A while back, I wrote a post about Michael Sandel’s case against human enhancement. As noted at the time, Sandel’s central claim was that enhancement was bad because it caused us to lose appreciation for the gifted nature of our lives. On the face of it, this doesn’t look to be a particularly persuasive argument, and indeed it has been repeatedly criticised in the literature since it was originally presented (see the earlier post for some examples of this). But maybe there is more to Sandel’s argument than meets the eye? Michael Hauskeller certainly seems to think so. In his 2011 article, “Human Enhancement and the Giftedness of Life”, he tries to rehabilitate, refine and reconstruct Sandel’s argument, defending it from common criticisms, and turning it into a powerful objection to the human enhancement project. Over the next few posts I want to take a fairly detailed look at Hauskeller’s attempted rehabilitation.
As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve recently begun reading two books on the ethics of human enhancement. One of those books is called Humanity’s End and it’s by Nicholas Agar. Agar seems like an interesting character. In an earlier book he defended a liberal position on positive eugenics. This suggested he had a willingness to embrace certain forms of enhancement. And yet in this book he offers an argument against radical human enhancement. There’s not necessarily an incompatibility between the two positions, but it’s an interesting shift nonetheless.
This is the second part in my series looking at pornography and the free speech principle. The series is focusing on the arguments analysed in Andrew Koppelman’s article “Is Pornography “Speech”?”. In part one, we looked at Frederick Schauer’s argument. In this post, we will look at John Finnis’s one. Both authors suggest that pornography is not covered by the FSP.
This post considers whether or not pornography should be covered by the free speech principle (FSP). According to this principle, all (or most) forms of speech should be free from government censorship and regulation. But this raises the question: which types of symbolic productions are covered by the FSP? And is pornography among them?
Democratic Legitimacy and the Enhancement Project Klaming and Vedder (2010) have argued that enhancement technologies that improve the epistemic efficiency of the legal system (“epistemic enhancements”) would benefit the common good. But there are two flaws to Klaming and Vedder’s argument. First, they rely on an under-theorised and under-specified conception of the common good. When theory and specification are supplied, their CGJ for enhancing eyewitness memory and recall becomes significantly less persuasive. And second, although aware of such problems, they fail to give due weight and consideration to the tensions between the individual and common good.
A couple of weeks back, I looked at David Owens’s article “Disenchantment”. In this article, Owens argues that the ability to manipulate and control all aspects of human life — which is, arguably, what is promised to us by enhancement technologies — would lead to disenchantment. Those of you who read my analysis of Owens’s article will know that I wasn’t too impressed by his arguments. Since then I’ve been wondering whether there might be a better critique of enhancement, one which touches upon similar themes, but which is defended by more rigorous arguments.