A blog from the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB)

Save humanity from the human

We must enhance the human; or else humanity will come to an end. Thus dramatically one could summarize the bioethicist Julian Savulescu’s TEDx-talk in Barcelona in July.

The talk lasts fifteen minutes; you can watch and listen to it yourself: The Need for Moral Enhancement.

The idea is that we urgently need medicine and technology to enhance our moral skills; otherwise we will not be able to handle the global threats that we ourselves created: climate change, nuclear weapons, terrorism, starvation, escalating violence.

Globalization, in short, created a world with dimensions to which our hunter-gatherer morality isn’t adapted. Only a moral pill can save us now.

Listening to the talk, I’m struck by how archaic it sounds, despite references to modern medicine and technology. Thus fire-and-brimstone preachers always made people feel the proximity of the end of the world. Thus fire-and-brimstone preachers always made people feel that the cause of the despicable state of the world is their own moral failure. Thus preachers always forced a new awakening:

  • “You’re on the wrong path; I can show you the way!”

The difference is the use of what could be termed the modern rhetoric of empirical justification, in which all claims must be supported by evidence… that is to say, by PowerPoint slides. The rhetoric seems to direct the use of evidence, however, for evidence pointing in undesired directions isn’t cited.

Neither does Savulescu explore alternative ways of thinking. Has globalization really produced a world so big that we cannot handle it? Couldn’t one just as well claim that globalization created a world so miserably tiny and manageable that one might grieve for the death of all that is great?

In the talk, the most archaic form of moralizing is provided with a modernized rhetorical façade, in order to persuade us that only conversion to a biomedically perfected morality can save us now. It is slightly paradoxical.

No wonder the audience looks dejected.

Pär Segerdahl

The temptation of rhetoric - the ethics blog


  1. Daniel Pallarés

    Last year I attended to a Congress in Valencia about Bioethics and Neuroethics. One of the conferences was about “moral enhancement”, impaired by Julian Savulescu. The conference was based in an article written by him and Ingmar Persson (Göteborg University).

    The line of the speech was exactly the same as the TEDx-talk in Barcelona in July.

    is true that human being has developed a great capacity for destroy the environment and for breaking out wars. But I think that J. Savulescu is focused on the wrong doings of humanity.

    But the solution is not a moral pill definitely.

    The answer is not a pill, and nobody could impose an answer to the problems. But the human being could develope a method to discuss the problems and a method to purpose solutions. It is not time to impose pills or agreements, it is time to purpose a method, based in the dialogue of all the people affected by the problems.

    Today it makes little sense to focus on non-consequentialist ethics unable to respond to concerns about human beings, about the effects that the environment has been, caused by science and technology, and because of the global economy ot the consumism way of life. Personally I think that a moral judgement to change what does not work is no a pill, but a practical discourse, in which all actions with global repercussions be legitimized by the agreement (no arrengement or business) of all concerned. Because only those norms can claim validity that may have the consent of all affected as participants in this discourse.

    If we have no found a procedure to agree on how we should act to find solutions, how ca anyone suggest directly the solution? And a solution that is not in the consensus of all concerned (as a pill)?

    • Pär Segerdahl

      Thanks a lot! Yes, if we cannot find ways of communicating globally about these problems, how can we collaborate to distribute moral enhancement globally? If global moral enhancement succeeds, we prove that we didn’t need it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.