Saturday, November 24, 2007

Virtue Ethics and Enhancement Paper

My paper "Virtue Ethics and Prenatal Genetic Enhancement" has been accepted for publication in the new online journal Studies in Ethics, Law and Technology. This is timely as the interesting debate I participated in this week over at Crooked Timber was on this very topic!

While prenatal enhancement is a very speculative intervention, it is an interesting case to consider because it raises important issues pertaining to parental love and virtue (which underlies my virtue ethics approach). Furthermore, the prospect of parent's having a role in influencing the genetic endowments of their offspring is something that many prominent critics have argued against (see here and here). I think it is a mistake to eschew these potential technologies. And so I thought writing a paper on this topic would be fun and interesting, and it might help raise some countervailing insights to both the critics of such interventions and to those who favour these interventions but adopt an explicit consequentialist approach.

Here is the abstract to the paper:

In this paper I argue that the virtue ethics tradition can enhance the moral discourse on the ethics of prenatal genetic enhancements in distinctive and valuable ways. Virtue ethics prescribes we adopt a much more provisional stance on the issue of the moral permissibility of prenatal genetic enhancements. A stance that places great care on differentiating between the different stakes involved with developing different phenotypes in our children and the different possible means (environmental vs genetic manipulation) available to parents for pursuing legitimate concerns of parental love and virtue. Key components of the virtue ethics account of morality, such as the Aristotelian account of happiness, love and the doctrine of the mean, provide an adequate basis for rejecting the claim that it is morally impermissible for parents to pursue (safe and effective) prenatal enhancements. Furthermore, there is good reason to believe that a virtue ethics account of morality could actually support the stronger claim that utilising such interventions can (in certain contexts) be morally required.

While my argument is not quite"The Case in Favour of Perfection", a more accurate description would be "The Case for Not Prejudging How Parents Can Best Help Their Children Flourish!".

One of the main reasons I like a virtue ethics approach to this issue is that the devil is in the details. And so if we imagine what a virtuous parent would do, if faced with the prospect of being able to increase (by utilising an enhancement) the likelihood that their child could live a flourishing life, we realise that much depends on the particulars at play (what other resources the parent has at their avail, what the enhancement in question is, etc.). And so I think bringing these insights to the fore might help us keep a more open mind concerning the ethics of enhancing interventions.