Can “moral bioenhancement”—using technological or pharmaceutical means to boost the morally desirable and remove the morally problematic—bring about a morally improved humanity? In The Myth of the Moral Brain, Harris Wiseman draws on insights from philosophy, biology, theology, and clinical psychology to make the case that moral functioning is immeasurably complex, mediated by biology but not determined by it. Harris Wiseman discusses his book, which considers an integrated approach to moral enhancement.
Does humanity need moral enhancement?
Regardless of how optimistic one’s view of human nature is, it is pretty clear that humans still do terrible things to one another. On first sight, looking at the subject matter on the most superficial level, the idea that one should create some magical technology able to prevent the horrors that humans perpetrate sounds great. Why would one not apply such a technology? The problem with this view is that no one has posed any kind of even vaguely plausible idea of how such a fantastical technology could be devised, even in principle. And there is one very good reason why no realistic prospects have been proposed. Given what we know about the vagueness of the relationship between human biology and the way in which sophisticated moral functioning is enacted, the prospect of some such globally-affective technology is pure fantasy. There are simply no “biological levers” that are clear or reliable enough to improve humanity’s moral powers in some grand and salvatory sense. In contrast, the sorts of moral enhancement that are entirely possible are cruder interventions for individual persons with some morally-related difficulties (e.g. addictions, pathological violence, some affective disorders, disturbing sexual aberrations), though in a largely medical context, and not without important side-effects for the person being treated. Within this scope moral enhancement might have some viable uses.
Even as recently as a decade ago, it was difficult to predict how quickly the case for marijuana legalization would grow into a movement throughout much of the West. Several states have in recent years made the recreational use of pot legal, and even more have approved its use for medical purposes. And yet, for a phenomenon that's growing so quickly, there's a lot we still don't know about marijuana's effects, and how they'll manifest in this era of the drug's ongoing legitimization.
To find out the state of scientific research, we turned to Linda Parker, a neuroscientist at the University of Guelph and Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Neuroscience. Parker is the author of Cannabinoids and the Brain, the most comprehensive scientific review yet published about the potential harms and benefits related to cannabis use. We asked her to break down what's known on the subject, and she sent us these thoughts.