Moral Enhancement and Transhumanism: Wendell Wallach and James J. Hughes

Wendell Wallach: Transcendence, Life Against Death, and Scientifically Inspired Visions for the Future

Since time immemorial, there has been a tension between spiritual dreams of transcendence and materialistic, hedonistic, or scientific inspired hopes for improving the quality of life.  Russian cosmism was born out of one man’s vision for resolving that tension.  Contemporary cosmists, by any name, must determine whether their visions truly expiate greed, as well as fear of death, loss of self, and the openness to love. Or, whether these visions mask and perpetuate the demons that have constantly hampered the fulfillment of humanity’s promise.  As a friendly skeptical, I’ll focus a critical eye upon the hype and technological solutionism that promise advances which will be hard, if not impossible, to fulfill.

James J. Hughes: Cosmism, Moral Enhancement and the Religious Dialogue with Transhumanism

Most people are neurologically incapable of living up to their own moral aspirations. In response to our moral inadequacies religious traditions have developed technologies such as fasting, meditation, special clothing and psychoactive drugs to improve moral cognition and behavior. Today psychopharmacological, social neuroscience and behavioral research are illuminating moral cognition, and generating new electronic, psychopharmaceutical, and genetic technologies for moral self-improvement.

As these technologies of moral enhancement become more common in therapy and criminal rehabilitation they will also be selectively adopted and rejected by religious traditions. Some religious will reject the new moral enhancement technologies on the grounds that, like the transhumanist aspirations for longevity, cognitive enhancement and uploading, they are a distraction from spiritual means and ends. Other technologies, such as treatments for addictions, will likely be widely embraced by the religious.

A dialogue between religious and transhumanists about these projects will help the religious parse which technologies are acceptable. But a religious-transhumanist moral enhancement dialogue will also help the transhumanist movement confront its dangerous lack of distinction between static forms of enhancement, such as hedonic “wireheading,” and forms of enhancement that enhance virtues, explore spiritual experience, and support flourishing lives.

Yale bioethicist Wendell Wallach and the IEET’s James J. Hughes discuss ethical enhancement and transhumanism at the recent Modern Cosmism conference in New York.

Wendell Wallach is a consultant, ethicist, and scholar at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. He is also a senior advisor toThe Hastings Center, a fellow at the Center for Law, Science & Innovation at the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law (Arizona State University), and a fellow at the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technology.

James Hughes Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is a bioethicist and sociologist at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut where he teaches health policy.

The Modern Cosmism Conference was held on Saturday, October 10, 2015 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture and was organized by Vlad Bowen for the Cosmism Foundation

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