Phoenix Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board Socrates Cafe Philosophy Discussion in Tempe Discussion Forum › Meeting Summary: What's Unacceptable in Transhumanism?

Meeting Summary: What's Unacceptable in Transhumanism?

David W.
Tempe, AZ
Fellow Philosophers -

My thanks to everyone who participated in Wednesday evening's two concurrent meetings to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend. I moderated 20 participants upstairs and Jack moderated 11 downstairs. Below is a summary of both discussions. It's not a precise narrative but rather an organized description from our notes and impressions.

1. QUESTION: At the start of the meeting, each participant offered an initial answer to the question: "What's Unacceptable in Transhumanism?" For me, this is the most enjoyable part of the meeting because each participant gets to speak uninterrupted, sharing their unique perspectives and building upon previous answers. For some participants, it's the only time they speak until the end when we go around for final answers.

Initial answers in both meetings were similar and I've categorized them by ethical approach: a) Utilitarian: Extending life will lead to overpopulation, environmental overconsumption, and government overspending in Medicare and social security. b) Rights: Enhancements will be done without fully informed consent, like embryonic enhancements by parents to create designer babies and governments enhancing people against their will. c) Fairness/Justice: High cost of enhancements will limit their availability to the wealthy, thus increasing inequities between rich and poor. d) Common Good: Enhancements will increase conflicts in communities by creating different castes and classes. e) Virtue: By reducing suffering and imperfections, enhancements will homogenize people, thus removing the challenges and variety that give meaning to human life.

Participants also raised good questions: Should we be allowed to do whatever we want with our bodies? Should we consider the motivators behind enhancement, like DARPA's desire to create super-soldiers? What are the "defects" that demand enhancement: sexual orientation, physical appearance, attitudes, moods, worldviews?

2. DEFINITIONS: Participants first brainstormed each definition before critiquing to insure that all possible definitions were at least silently considered.

The following definitions were suggested for Unacceptable: dangerous, immoral, unjust, rejected by the majority, destructive, unnatural, illegal, repugnant. Participants then critiqued, arguing that: Majority rule was unacceptable to minority rights. Unnatural assumes that natural is always good. Repugnant assumes that yucky is always bad and that everyone agrees on what's yucky. To reach agreement, the moderator reminded the group that every Socrates Cafe meeting is a discussion of ethics and recommended that unacceptable be defined as unethical under at least one of the five approaches: Utilitarian, Rights, Fairness/Justice, Common Good, Virtue. For details on the approaches, read "A Framework for Thinking Ethically" at­

The following definitions were suggested for Transhumanism: Mental, physical, ethical, and spiritual enhancements to humans, Beyond health restoring, Transcending humanness, Performance enhancements, Immortality glorification, Technological enhancements, Changes beyond three standard deviations in a bell curve. After limited critique, the group agreed to use the definition in Wikipedia: "Transhumanism (symbolized by H+ or h+), a term often used as a synonym for "human enhancement", is an international, intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of science and technology to enhance human mental and physical characteristics and capacities, and overcome what it regards as undesirable and unnecessary aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death."

From the above definitions, the question "What's Unacceptable in Transhumanism?" was understood to mean "What human enhancements are unethical under at least one of the five approaches?"

3. ASSUMPTIONS: Participants suggested the following reasons for why the question was being asked: a) Humans have plenty of imperfections and many enhancements are currently available. b) We are afraid of the unintended negative consequences of enhancements. c) It's easier to prevent negative consequences if we can identify them earlier.

Participants then offered assumptions that if true would imply a particular answer: d) Being naturally human is better than being artificially enhanced, which implied that technological enhancements were bad. e) Being human means striving to be better, which implied that enhancing is good. f) Using tools doesn't make us unnatural, which implied that grafting tools to our bodies wouldn't make us unnatural. g) Our economies can't support people who are retired for periods longer than they worked, which implied that life extension enhancements were bad. h) Prosperous, intelligent parents have fewer children, which implied that enhancements won't lead to overpopulation. i) Humans take things to excess, like creating new dog breeds and breast sizes, which implied that enhancements should be carefully considered and tightly regulated. j) Parents who are deaf or dwarf can use technology to create children in their image, which implied that enhancement technology won't always lead to improvements. k) Humans need struggles to flourish and give our lives meaning, which implied that enhancements that remove struggles will make our lives less meaningful.

4. OBJECTIVES: In addition to not being unethical under one of the five approaches, participants suggested the following objectives that would determine which enhancements were unacceptable: a) Shouldn't create inequalities. b) Should make our lives and world better. c) Should be irreversible if you're unhappy with the consequences. d) Shouldn't make living less meaningful. e) Should create more opportunities. f) Shouldn't exploit the environment or animals. g) Should result in incremental rather than radical change to avoid disaster.

5. OPTIONS: Participants brainstormed which enhancements could be unacceptable and suggested the following: a) Creating subhuman servants. b) Enhancing children under the age of 18. c) Creating genderless or multi-gendered humans.

6. COST BENEFIT: Since we were running out of time, the moderator asked the group to weigh one option: parents performing embryonic enhancements (EE) to create their ideal child (i.e. designer babies). Those for EE argued that it was more ethical than letting random chance decide and that parents were obligated to give their children what's best. Those against EE argued that parents can't accurately predict its consequences. For example, parents under China's one child policy have used EE to create a society with too many males and not enough females. In addition, if all parents use EE to create superior children, who will want to be janitors and cashiers at Walmart? This was countered with the argument that superior people will create advance technologies to eliminate meaningless jobs. Since embryonic enhancements are irreversible and their ultimate consequences unknowable, the argument came down to how rights were balanced: do parents have the right to create ideal children or do children have the right to grow up unadultered?

7. ANSWER: At the end of the meeting, participants gave their final answers to "What's Unacceptable in Transhumanism?" Most of the answers could be summarized thusly: Enhancements with more negative than beneficial consequences, that violate rights, that create unfair differences, that threaten our survival, or remove what makes being human meaningful and admirable. The only options that seemed to fit that answer were creating subhuman servants and irreversible embryonic enhancements that created unhappy adults.

At the downstairs meeting, participants were asked what enhancements they desired and answered as follows: a) Be taller. b) Think faster. c) Internet and network reception in the brain. d) On/off switch for sexual desire. e) Perfect lifelong vision. f) Sleep button. g) Illness immunity. h) Play any musical instrument.

You can post your comments to this discussion on the Message Board under the topic "Meeting Summary: What's Unacceptable in Transhumanism?" at http://philosophy.mee...­ You can also suggest a question for a future meeting by posting it on the message board under the topic "What Question Should We Discuss?"

The question for the next meeting on Wednesday, January 28th, will be "Is Spanking Ethical?" You can read an event description below my signature and RSVP here http://philosophy.mee...­

Hope to see you there.


Is Spanking Ethical? - January 28th
On November 10th last year, an 8-year old Arizona boy shot dead his father and a family friend. Prosecutors considered the murders premeditated because the rifle used could fire only one shot at a time, requiring the boy to stop and reload at least four times. While investigators initially reported no motive, it was subsequently revealed that the boy kept a record of how many times he had been spanked and vowed that one thousand would be his limit.

At the next Socrates Cafe, we will discuss the question, "Is Spanking Ethical?" The Bible states "He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently." (Proverbs 13:24). And Arizona statute says a "Parent/guardian may use reasonable and appropriate physical force upon the minor when and to the extent reasonably necessary and appropriate to maintain discipline." (Sec. 13-403). Given its religious and legal approval, is spanking morally acceptable? To prepare for the meeting, read the Wikipedia entry on Spanking at http://en.wikipedia.o...­

Only 25 people can attend. RSVP now at http://philosophy.mee...­
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