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John Danaher Topics




Karlsen on God and the Benefits of Existence

by John Danaher

The paper tries to fuse traditional concerns about the problem of evil with recent work in population ethics. The result is an interesting, and somewhat novel, atheological argument. As is the case with every journal club, I will try to kick start the discussion by providing an overview of the paper’s main arguments, along with some questions you might like to ponder about its effectiveness.



Are we morally obliged to eat some meat? (Part 1 and 2)

by John Danaher

I’ve recently been looking into the ethics of vegetarianism, partly because I’m not one myself and I’m interesting in questioning my position, and partly because it is an interesting philosophical issue in its own right. Earlier this summer I looked at Jeff McMahan’s critique of benign carnivorism. Since that piece was critical of the view I myself hold, I thought it might be worthwhile balancing things out by looking at an opposing view.



Bostrom on Superintelligence (6): Motivation Selection Methods

by John Danaher

This is the sixth part in my series on Nick Bostrom’s recent book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. The series is covering those parts of the book that most interest me. This includes the sections setting out the basic argument for thinking that the creation of superintelligent AI could threaten human existence, and the proposed methods for dealing with that threat.



Are we heading for technological unemployment? An Argument

by John Danaher

We’re all familiar with the headlines by now: “Robots are going to steal our jobs”, “Automation will lead to joblessness”, and “AI will replace human labour”. It seems like more and more people are concerned about the possible impact of advanced technology on employment patterns. Last month, Lawrence Summers worried about it in the Wall Street Journal but thought maybe the government could solve the problem. Soon after, Vivek Wadhwa worried about it in the Washington Post, arguing that there was nothing the government could do. Over on the New York Times, Paul Krugman has been worrying about it for years.



An Ethical Framework for the Use of Enhancement Drugs

by John Danaher

Debate about the merits of enhancement tends to pretty binary. There are some — generally called bioconservatives — who are opposed to it; and others — transhumanists, libertarians and the like — who embrace it wholeheartedly. Is there any hope for an intermediate approach? One that doesn’t fall into the extremes of reactionary reject or uncritical endorsement?



Bostrom on Superintelligence (5): Limiting an AI’s Capabilities

by John Danaher

This is the fifth part of my series on Nick Bostrom’s book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. So far in the series, we’ve covered why Bostrom thinks superintelligent AIs might pose an existential risk to human beings. We’ve done this by looking at some of his key claims about the nature of artificial intelligence (the orthogonality thesis and the instrumental convergence thesis); and at the structure of his existential risk argument.



Bostrom on Superintelligence (4): Malignant Failure Modes

by John Danaher

This is the fourth post of my series on Nick Bostrom’s recent book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. In the previous post, I started my discussion of Bostrom’s argument for an AI doomsday scenario. Today, I continue this discussion by looking at another criticism of that argument, along with Bostrom’s response.



Bostrom on Superintelligence (3): Doom and the Treacherous Turn

by John Danaher

In the first two entries, I looked at some of Bostrom’s conceptual claims about the nature of agency, and the possibility of superintelligent agents pursuing goals that may be inimical to human interests. I now move on to see how these conceptual claims feed into Bostrom’s case for an AI doomsday scenario.



Bostrom on Superintelligence (2): The Instrumental Convergence Thesis

by John Danaher

This is the second post in my series on Nick Bostrom’s recent book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. In the previous post, I looked at Bostrom’s defence of the orthogonality thesis. This thesis claimed that pretty much any level of intelligence — when “intelligence” is understood as skill at means-end reasoning — is compatible with pretty much any (final) goal. Thus, an artificial agent could have a very high level of intelligence, and nevertheless use that intelligence to pursue very odd final goals, including goals that are inimical to the survival of human beings. In other words, there is no guarantee that high levels of intelligence among AIs will lead to a better world for us.



Bostrom on Superintelligence (1): The Orthogonality Thesis

by John Danaher

In this entry, I take a look at Bostrom’s orthogonality thesis. As we shall see, this thesis is central to his claim that superintelligent AIs could pose profound existential risks to human beings. But what does the thesis mean and how plausible is it?



Should we have a right not to work?

by John Danaher

Voltaire once said that “work saves a man from three great evils: boredom, vice and need.” Many people endorse this sentiment. Indeed, the ability to seek and secure paid employment is often viewed as an essential part of a well-lived life. Those who do not work are reminded of the fact. They are said to be missing out on a valuable and fulfilling human experience. The sentiment is so pervasive that some of the foundational documents of international human rights law — including the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR Art. 23) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR Art. 6) — recognise and enshrine the “right to work”.



Feminism and the Basic Income (Part Two)

by John Danaher

This is the second part of my series on feminism and the basic income. In part one, I looked at the possible effects of an unconditional basic income (UBI) on women. I also looked at a variety of feminist arguments for and against the UBI. The arguments focused on the impact of the UBI on economic independence, freedom of choice, the value of unpaid work, and women’s labour market participation.



Feminism and the Basic Income (Part One)

by John Danaher

The introduction of an unconditional basic income (UBI) is often touted as a positive step in terms of freedom, well-being and social justice. That’s certainly the view of people like Philippe Van Parijs and Karl Widerquist, both of whose arguments for the UBI I covered in my two most recent posts. But could there be other less progressive effects arising from its introduction?



Widerquist on Freedom and the Basic Income

by John Danaher

This post is part of an ongoing series I’m doing on the unconditional basic income (UBI). The UBI is an income grant payable to a defined group of people (e.g. citizens, or adults, or everyone) within a defined geo-political space. The income grant could be set at various levels, with most proponents thinking it should be at or above subsistence level, or at least at the maximum that is affordable in a given society. In my most recent post, I looked at Van Parijs’s famous defence of the UBI. Today, I look at Widerquist’s critique of Parijs, as well as his own preferred justification for the UBI.



Parasitic Surfers and the Unconditional Basic Income: A Debate

by John Danaher

I want to write a few posts about the basic income over the next couple of months. This is part of an ongoing interest I have in the future of work and solutions to the problem of technological unemployment. I’ll start by looking at a debate between Philippe van Parijs and Elizabeth Anderson about the justice of an unconditional basic income (UBI).



Radcliffe-Richards on Sexual Inequality and Justice (Part Two)

by John Danaher

Should we worry that only X% of CEOs, or politicians or philosophers (or whatever) are women? Is there something unjust or morally defective about a society with low percentages of women occupying these kinds of roles? That’s what we’re looking at in this series of posts, based on Janet Radcliffe-Richard’s (RR’s) paper “Only X%: the Problem of Sex Inequality”.



Radcliffe-Richards on Sexual Inequality and Justice (Part One)

by John Danaher

Let’s start with a thought experiment. Suppose that in a given population 50% of people have blue eyes and 50% have brown eyes. Suppose further that there is no evidence to suggest that eye colour has any effect on cognitive ability; indeed, suppose that everything we know suggests that cognitive ability is equally distributed among blue and brown-eyed people. Now imagine that in this population 80% of all senior academics and professors are blue-eyed. What conclusions should we draw about the justice of this society?



The Ethics of Benign Carnivorism (Part Two)

by John Danaher

This is the second part in my series on the ethics of benign carnivorism. The series is working off Jeff McMahan’s article “Eating animals the nice way”. Benign carnivorism (BC) is the view that it is ethically permissible to eat farmed meat, so long as the animals being reared have lived good lives (that they otherwise would not have lived) and have been killed painlessly.



The Ethics of Benign Carnivorism

by John Danaher

Is it morally permissible to eat farmed meat? According to a position known as “benevolent carnivorism” it can be. I’ll offer a more detailed characterisation of this position below, but in general terms benevolent carnivorism (BC from here on out) is the view that it is permissible to eat farmed meat so long as the animals one eats live good lives (that they would not otherwise have lived) and are painlessly killed.



Is Modern Technology Creating a Borg-like Society?

by John Danaher

The Borg are the true villains of the Star Trek universe. True, the Klingons are warlike and jingoistic, the Romulans are devious and isolationist, and the Cardassians are just plain devious, but their methods and motivations are, for want of a better word, all too human-like. The Borg are truly alien: a hive-like superorganism, bent upon assimilating every living thing into their collective mind. To hardy individualists, this is the epitome of evil.



Is a Longer Life a Happier Life? Stoicism and Happiness

by John Danaher

I think I might be a bit of stoic. It’s not that I agree with stoic metaphysics or logic — I actually know very little about those things — but if asked about my general attitude toward life, I would describe it as being stoic. For me, that means that I try to live in the moment as much as possible, to constantly factor-in the arbitrariness of the world around me, and to regularly practice negative visualisations.



The Ethics of Suicide: A Framework

by John Danaher

In 1774, Goethe published the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. The novel consists of a series of letters from a young, sensitive artist by the name of Werther. Over the course of these letters, we learn that Werther has become involved in a tragic love triangle. He believes that in order to resolve the love triangle, some member of it will have to die. Not being inclined to commit murder, Werther resolves to kill himself. This he duly does by shooting himself in the head.



Is Transhumanism Compatible with Anarchism?

by John Danaher

Transhumanists want to liberate themselves from the limitations of the human body. Anarchists want to liberate themselves from the limitations of contemporary human social structures. You might think that these two goals are compatible: that the liberatory ethos of transhumanism could complement that of anarchism.



The Image World and the Ethics of Virtual Acts

by John Danaher

I recently looked at the work of Stephanie Partridge, who argues that we should take a moralistic attitude toward certain fictional representations. Included within that group of fictional representations are acts of virtual rape (such as might be performed in a video game like RapeLay). In this post, I want to look at a similar set of arguments from Gert Gooskens. These will be drawn from his article “The Ethical Status of Virtual Actions”.



The Ethics of Virtual Rape

by John Danaher

The notorious 1982 video game Custer’s Revenge requires the player to direct their crudely pixellated character (General Custer) to avoid attacks so that he can rape a Native American woman who is tied to a stake. The game, unsurprisingly, generated a great deal of controversy and criticism at the time of its release. Since then, video games with similarly problematic content, but far more realistic imagery, have been released. For example, in 2006 the Japanese company Illusion released the game RapeLay, in which the player stalks and rapes a mother and her two daughters.



Radical Enhancement and Perpetual Childhood

by John Danaher

This is going to be the final part in my series on Nicholas Agar’s book Truly Human Enhancement. In the most recent entry, I went through the first part of the argument in chapter 4. To briefly recap, that argument contends that radical enhancement may lead to the disintegration of personal identity (in either a metaphysical or evaluative sense).



Does radical enhancement threaten our sense of self?

by John Danaher

If we extended our lives by 200 years, or if we succeeded in uploading our minds to an artificial substrate, would we undermine our sense of personal identity? If so, would it be wiser to avoid such radical forms of enhancement? These are the questions posed in chapter 4 of Nicholas Agar’s book Truly Human Enhancement. Over the next two posts I’ll take a look at Agar’s answers. This is all part of my ongoing series of reflections on Agar’s book.



Will sex workers be replaced by robots? (A Precis)

by John Danaher

I recently published an article in the Journal of Evolution and Technology on the topic of sex work and technological unemployment (available here, here and here). It began by asking whether sex work, specifically prostitution (as opposed to other forms of labour that could be classified as “sex work”, e.g. pornstar or erotic dancer), was vulnerable to technological unemployment. It looked at contrasting responses to that question, and also included some reflections on technological unemployment and the basic income guarantee.



Should we bet on radical enhancement?

by John Danaher

This is the third part of my series on Nicholas Agar’s book Truly Human Enhancement. As mentioned previously, Agar stakes out an interesting middle ground on the topic of enhancement. He argues that modest forms of enhancement — i.e. up to or slightly beyond the current range of human norms — are prudentially wise, whereas radical forms of enhancement — i.e. well beyond the current range of human norms — are not. His main support for this is his belief that in radically enhancing ourselves we will lose certain internal goods. These are goods that are intrinsic to some of our current activities.



Veridical Engagement and Radical Enhancement

by John Danaher

This is the second post in my series on Nicholas Agar's new book Truly Human Enhancement. The book offers an interesting take on the enhancement debate. It tries to carve out a middle ground between bioconservatism and transhumanism, arguing that modest enhancement (within or slightly beyond the range of human norms) is prudentially valuable, but that radical enhancement (well beyond the range of human norms) may not be.

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