A reply to Allen Buchanan on Cognitive Enhancement

The interview with Allen Buchanan has spawned numerous discussions throughout the web, including Brendan Foht’s response. In it, Foht looks to address Buchanan’s claim that the nature of our evolution in some sense justifies cognitive enhancement, and the existence of other technologies.

It is strange that Buchanan thinks that opponents of genetic engineering who find something worth preserving in our nature must believe that evolution is analogous to some sort of “master engineer.” Considering that evolution is a slow process by which biological order spontaneously emerges from highly complex networks of highly conserved genes, there would seem to be an obvious analogy for it in the conservative view of society.

Another article on the topic by Allen Buchanan can be found here. And you can watch a lecture by Buchanan through Youtube, titled “Using Biotechnology to enhance normal humans: Why nature isn’t good enough.” 
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What Sorts course

I’ll be teaching a fairly large, mixed grad / undergrad seminar this coming semester as an ethics course with the working title that coincides with the blog: what sorts of people should there be?. Below is an initial draft of the core part of the syllabus. Feedback and suggestions welcome. One feature of the course will be to integrate some of the posts, videos, and commentaries from the What Sorts blog, using them as a basis for further discussion and readings.  If any of you are also making use of some of the resources here or at www.whatsorts.net, let me know by reply here or privately.

Phil 450 / 550
Topics in Ethics
What sorts of people should there be?

Themes, readings, etc.


Course guide description:

This course will be organized around the question “What sorts of people should there be?” and will focus on philosophical issues that arise in several areas at the interface of ethics, science, and technology. Topics that I would imagine covering including most, if not all, of the following: autonomy and personal choice concerning one’s appearance, health, and well-being; choices and responsibilities for one’s own possible and actual children; social policies and common practices regarding future generations, including genetic testing and screening; philosophical and medical views of disability and disablement; bioenhancement and transhumanism; the moral value of human and non-human lives; the nature of persons and the philosophical focus on questions about persons. Continue reading

Human Kinds–Species Typical, Sub-typical, Beyond Typical–Part 1

Here is Gregor Wolbring‘s talk at the Human Kinds Symposium, including my introduction of Gregor and almost the first half of his talk. Gregor’s focus in this part is on enhancement, “techno-doping”, and ableism. Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3!

Gregor also writes a regular column, The Choice is Yours, and you can find more information about him there.

As with other videos in this series, apologies for no captioning yet, but we hope to have that finished in the next few weeks, and will let you know when captioning is up.

Human Kinds: Introduction

Over the next few weeks, we will run videocasts from in invited symposium panel that I organized at the Pacific Division meeting of American Philosophical Association in April, 2009, held in Vancouver. The panel was on human kinds, and topics that we discussed ranged from transhumanism through to disability and sub-normalcy and gay rights and gay marriage. The speakers, in the order in which they spoke, were:

Natasha Vita-More

Gregor Wolbring

Nick Agar

Ed Stein

The talks are relatively short, and we’ll run about 1 per week before linking them all up together. No captioning yet, but we hope to have captioning done by the time the series has run.

The introduction talks a little bit more generally about the panel and the What Sorts Network. You can also watch the videos directly on Youtube, by searching for videos by Rapunzelish. Really.

Face of a Nation

Yang Peiyi, who recorded the song that Lin Miaoke lip-synced at the Beijing opening ceremonies.

Yang Peiyi, who recorded the song that Lin Miaoke lip-synced at the Beijing opening ceremonies.

Today’s big Olympic story (see CBC coverage here and National Post coverage here) was not about athletic accomplishments, but rather another lip-syncing controversy. This time, it was something far more disturbing than learning that Luciano Pavarotti lip-synced his performance at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics. Rather, today we learned that not only did nine-year-old Lin Miaoke lip-synch her performance of “Ode to the Motherland” at the Beijing opening ceremony, but the girl who actually sang the song, seven-year-old Yang Peiyi, was considered not beautiful enough to represent China because of her crooked teeth. According to Chen Qigang, the ceremony’s chief music director, “The reason was for the national interest. The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feelings and expression.”

It is interesting to note that the Chinese quest for the perfect prototype is one that has deeper roots in terms of how they see themselves in scope of human evolution. Several studies have demonstrated that the concept of race has been rejected by about 75% of anthropologists globally in terms of understanding human biological variation. Interestingly, a recent study of the race concept in China showed that of 324 articles directly related to human variation printed in Acta Anthropologica Sinica, China’s only journal dedicated to physical anthropology, none questioned the validity of human racial classification. Rather, several articles were mainly concerned with the biological differences among or between ‘major races.’ The reason for this is that Continue reading