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Enhancements for morality could become technologically practical at the expense of becoming unethical and uncivil. A mode of moral enhancement intensifying a person's imposition of conformity upon others, labeled here as “moral righteousness”, is particularly problematic. Moral energies contrary to expansions of civil rights and liberties can drown out reasoned justifications for equality and freedom, delaying social progress. The technological capacity of moral righteousness in the hands of a majority could impose puritanical conformities and override some rights and liberties. Fortunately, there cannot be a human right or a civil right to access righteous moral enhancement, and governments would be prudent to forbid such technology for moral righteousness. From an enlarged perspective, less righteousness could lead to a more just society. Going further, if a neurological intervention for moral righteousness could be invented, so too could moral de-enhancement, here labeled as “moral toleration”. Perhaps moral toleration deserves as much commendation as so-called moral enhancement. Justice with less delay can be justice enhanced.
Is Moral Enhancement a Right, or a
Threat to Rights?
Enhancements for morality could become technologically practical at the expense of
becoming unethical and uncivil. A mode of moral enhancement intensifying a
persons imposition of conformity upon others, labeled here as moral righteousness,
is particularly problematic. Moral energies contrary to expansions of civil rights and
liberties can drown out reasoned justifications for equality and freedom, delaying
social progress. The technological capacity of moral righteousness in the hands of a
majority could impose puritanical conformities and override some rights and liberties.
Fortunately, there cannot be a human right or a civil right to access righteous moral
enhancement, and governments would be prudent to forbid such technology for
moral righteousness. From an enlarged perspective, less righteousness could lead to a
more just society. Going further, if a neurological intervention for moral righteousness
could be invented, so too could moral de-enhancement, here labeled as moral
toleration. Perhaps moral toleration deserves as much commendation as so-called
moral enhancement. Justice with less delay can be justice enhanced.
1. Introduction
The moral conviction demanding respect for a civil right or a civil
liberty is often a powerful social and political force. Moral convic-
tions in opposition can be just as powerful. Those threatening a
violation of familiar categories, traditional statuses, and regular
roles are accused of disrupting the social order, claiming an unearned
privilege, or inflicting harms on others. Showing that the social order
will adapt well, new equalities can elevate everyone, and sure benefits
outweigh exaggerated harms, are all morally relevant ways to supply
reasoned responses. Convictions do not promptly yield the floor
for that rational debate, though. Instead, shrilly moralistic alarms
are sounded, tribalistic sides take defensive postures, and fronts of
potent resistance are raised. Only those in the right should be
heard, each side declares. Cultural discourse seizes up with symbolic
posturing and then crystallises into slogans. Decades soon pass, and
successive generations wait for progress.
Faulting morality itself is understandably counter-intuitive. We
write our histories after more rights and more equality have been
doi:10.1017/S135824611800036X © The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the contributors 2018
Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 83 2018
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secured, crediting the morally inspired and righteously energised
victors. (Conservatives, no less morally energised, are clearly wrong
only in hindsight.) Those post-victory narratives are accurate
enough, considering the moralistic resistance which had to be repeat-
edly overcome. Less moralistic grounds for social change are not
known for arousing fervent support. But those good grounds do
not arouse intense opposition either, so long as inequalities and injus-
tices are not worsened by social change. If the eagerness to impose
ones moral stance on the lives of others could be diminished across
a population, the overall re-balancing of moral energies with
mundane reasonings might shift society towards faster expansions
and surer protections of civil rights and liberties. The likelihood of
such a shift can appearcounter-intuitive, especially to partisan political
camps (liberal and conservative alike) who are proud of their devotion
to civil rights and liberties. And those camps perennially beg the public
to be just as morally passionate about the next struggles to come.
Moral psychologists, thanks in part to neuroscience, are discerning
cognitive-affective processes connected to moral conviction and
action. Proposals for experimental adjustments to peoples moral
judgements and energies have been aired. If lack of moral passion
and social action from the public is at fault, morality enhancement
can look like an appealing remedy. This essay argues to the contrary.
The sort of moralistic enhancement conducive to partisan victory is
not the right solution; no-one has a right to it, and government
would be right to suppress it. Moral enhancement need not be the
continuation of culture wars by other means. A society may be
wiser for encouraging the opposite of moral enhancement where
rights and liberties are concerned.
2. Morality Enhancement and Moral Righteousness
Let morality enhancement be defined as a technological intervention
that alters neural functioning which happens to improve ones exhib-
ition of moral conduct. For the purposes of this discussion, in order
to be a morality enhancer, of whatever contrivance pharmaco-
logical, modulatory, cybernetic, and so on the intervention demon-
strably works. If it does not work by adjusting actual moral conduct
in some positive and objective manner, it is not a morality enhancer.
(And if it alters other behaviours too, then it is still a morality enhan-
cer, though of dubious value and potentially immoral character.) By
objective, empirical accessibility to behaviour is meant, not other
senses of validor true.
John R. Shook
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A person can truly come to sense or understand moral concerns dif-
ferently over time, and feel validly enhanced in the process. Moral
philosophies consider subjective matters supposedly intrinsic to
morality (willful freedom, intending good, empathy, dutifulness,
right reasoning, and so on), but moral psychology co-ordinates
them with behaviours. Morality enhancement, as defined here,
does not target anything purely subjective that leaves behaviour
entirely unaltered (if that were even possible). A person who con-
tinues to act precisely the same manner as before, but acts for clarified
motives, is someone with a fresh ethical perspective, not a new moral
capacity. The enhancement of morality will not be delayed by incon-
clusive ethical theorising about internal criteria essential to morality.
Besides, those demanding ethical enhancementsatisfying internal
criteria must explain how any alleged subjective improvement would
be confirmable in moral conduct.
An agnostic stance is further recommended in regard to ethical the-
orising looking for the lone truemorality, and just as much agnos-
ticism towards abandoning that quest as well. The enhancement of
morality will not be dispelled as impossible upon the challenge,
By which morality?The appropriate answer is obvious: Our mor-
ality. What is relative or multiform can still be naturally real. What
people can regard as moral provides the only meaning to morality that
any human beings in the real world are capable of discussing. That is
why the enhancement of morality, like the improvement of anything
we do as humans, can only happen in actual human settings. This
must never be forgotten. Anyone speaking of moral enhancement
takes the risk of inflating transhumanist optimism, encouraging par-
tisan radicalism, or purveying idiosyncratic moralism. These risks ac-
company moral enhancementin the abstract by ignoring key
contexts: (a) the diversity to cultural traditions that instill differing
sets of moral norms; (b) the varying social conditions that warrant de-
cisions about moral priorities; and (c) the individual characters that
balance moral virtues in distinctive ways. For example, could the en-
hancement of trust be a moral enhancement? Some cultures empha-
sise trust as a moral duty, while others do not; some groups should
not enjoy dutiful trusting from their members; and generous trust
is often unwise for people with naïvely helpful characters. For any-
thing that comes to mind as assuredly moral for anyone, it could be
immoral, unjust, and/or harmful when intensified in someone
chosen at random from around the world.
Recognising context is one step; acknowledging practicalities is the
next. No intervention designed for morality enhancement exists
today. Alterations to moral ability will more likely be discovered
Is Moral Enhancement a Right, or a Threat to Rights?
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by accident, while tinkering with one or more entwined functions:
interpersonal sensitivity, social cognition, foresight salience, threat
management, emotional moderation, impulse inhibition, motiv-
ational control, practical inference, and the like.
Current science
has only modest clues about designing morality enhancement, or
any sort of cognitive enhancement, but the many physiological and
neurological obstacles to practical enhancement are not discussed
If a neurological intervention was to somehow influence
moral ability, experimental detection and confirmation are further
hurdles, but they are not insurmountable. Subjects can be tested
for certain moral tendencies and preferences after specific moral
contexts have been pre-arranged. So long as no-one imagines that
universalmoral abilities of the human beingare thereby re-
vealed, moral psychology can objectively measure alterations to
moral performance.
This essay has so far been talking about morality enhancement
rather than moral enhancementto call initial attention to the way
that any ideal moral enhancer could well be an immoral moral enhan-
cer. Moral enhancementcannot automatically be moral just
because moralwas prefixed to enhancement. An imagined
moral enhancer may lose its moral character when situated within a
real-world context, it might turn out to be largely immoral in its
overall effects, or its usage by many could lead to unjust social conse-
quences. No moral enhancementshould be tautologically defined
as entirely moral or ethical. With that cautionary point in place, the
rest of this essay returns to convention, with moral enhancement
standing in for morality enhancement.
To demonstrate the efficacy of a putative moral enhancer, moral
psychology would apply pre-set standards of moral ability, to
Discussions of morally relevant capacities are offered by Thomas
Douglas, Moral Enhancement via Direct Emotion Modulation: A Reply
to John Harris,Bioethics 27:3 (2013), 160168; Molly Crockett and
Regina Rini, Neuromodulators and the (In)stability of Moral Cognition,
in J. Decety and T. Wheatley (eds), The Moral Brain: A Multidisciplinary
Perspective (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), 221235; and G. Owen
Schaefer, Direct vs. Indirect Moral Enhancement,Kennedy Institute of
Ethics Journal 25:3 (2015), 261289.
Consult John Shook and James Giordano, Defining Contexts of
Cognitive (Performance) Enhancements,inF.JotterandandV.Dubljevic
(eds), Cognitive Enhancement: Ethical and Policy Implications in
International Perspectives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 7698.
John R. Shook, Neuroethics and the Possible Types of Moral
Enhancement,AJOB Neuroscience 3:4 (2012), 314.
John R. Shook
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compare against the moral conduct of a subject receiving the inter-
What types of behaviours count as morally relevant, and
morally right, must be chosen in advance in order to supply needed
contexts. The confirmation that moral behaviour has been measur-
ably altered (in whatever direction) in a subject then further
permits researchers to realistically determine whether any novel
moral behaviours (and possibly other anomalous behaviours), have
been added to this subjects performance.
Agenericmoral enhancer by definition only improves the sub-
jects ability to be the kind of moral person that the subject already
tries to be. Let the target of moral enhancement be charity, to
supply examples. A subject who believes that donating a large per-
centage of income to ones church will maintain that belief, and
display moral enhancement by fulfilling that felt duty more regularly
and/or more generously. By contrast, a morphicmoral enhancer
improves moral conduct by altering a subjects moral views, such as
moral values or beliefs. A subject who had not thought that avoiding
charity was a moral failing will reverse that belief, displaying this
moral enhancement by fulfilling a newly acknowledged duty to give
generously to charity. As for a theoretical third category, the
ethicalmoral enhancer that adjusts morality towards what is
truly moral (not simply what any number of people happen to
think is moral), this chapter has nothing to say, because moral phil-
osophy is not driving this essays enquiry. These three goals for
moral enhancement must be kept distinct, although philosophical
debates over its merits have exhibited their conflation.
Morphic moral enhancement (if anything approaching that mode
became technological feasible) is not this essays focus, but it deserves
two observations. First, few people would voluntarily undergo
morphic moral enhancement. Theres nothing about wasting
money on charities that seems moral to me why shouldntmy
family enjoy the wealth that Ive earned?”“Im pretty sure that
killing someone threatening my home is my right why should I
become a defenseless wimp?Pro-choice advocates will not accept
enhancementof their baby-loving ability, and pro-life advocates
will not accept enhancementof their women-respecting ability.
If I do not think that a so-called enhancementis all that moral, I
must regard its morphic application upon me as immoral, or oddly
amoral, or just something to make me congenial to others. In the
absence of peer pressure or coercion, a typical person will not
John Shook, My Brain Made Me Moral: Moral Performance
Enhancement for Realists,Neuroethics 9:3 (2016), 199211.
Is Moral Enhancement a Right, or a Threat to Rights?
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regard morphic enhancement as obligatory. Second, following from
this, a society compelling morphic moral enhancement violates
human rights and civil rights unless stringent criteria are satisfied,
akin to justifications for mandatory mental treatment or
Another distinction by moral psychology is needed next, to distin-
guish judgementalmoral enhancement from performativeand
correctivemoral enhancement. Confirming one mode in an enhan-
cer is not automatically a confirmation of the others. A judgemental
moral enhancer improves the subjects ability to make accurate assess-
ments of moral situations and correctly judge what is right more
reliably. Expressing judgements upon hypotheticals without partici-
pating in actual problematic situations is one way for a subject to
reveal aspects of moral capacity. Participation is a second way. A per-
formative moral enhancer improves the subjects ability to judge what
is morally right (it fulfils the judgemental mode) and also the sub-
jects ability to do more morally right actions while participating in
real-world situations.
Scrutinising the behaviour of others goes
well beyond attending to ones own behaviour, providing a third
target for moral enhancers. A corrective moral enhancer not only im-
proves the subjects own moral performance (it fulfils the judgemen-
tal and performative modes), but additionally improves the subjects
corrective efforts against wrongs by others.
For example, a subject
receiving a moral enhancement against theft will duly regard stealing
as more morally wrong and also seek harsher punishment for thieves
than the subject had approved before enhancement. Corrective
efforts against wrongs could take any number of concrete forms,
such as voting, donating money, civic activism, social nonco-operation,
public unrest, and the like amounting to material support for group
and third-party activities, and not necessarily personal retribution.
This judgemental-performative-corrective distinction agrees
that proven moral enhancers will likely manifest multiple modes
simultaneously, since their underlying psychological factors are
Kathryn Francis, et al., Virtual Morality: Transitioning From Moral
Judgment to Moral Action?,PLoS ONE 11 (2015), e0164374.
The role for punishing in the development of morality is discussed by
Robert Kurzban, Maxwell Burton-Chellew, and Stuart West, The
Evolution of Altruism in Humans,Annual Review of Psychology 66:3
(2015), 575599. Determining conditions where people regard harms as
moral punishment is the subject of research by Kimmo Eriksson, Pontus
Strimling, and Per Andersson, Costly Punishment in the Ultimatum
Game Evokes Moral Concern, in Particular When Framed as Payoff
Reduction,Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 69 (2017), 5964.
John R. Shook
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interrelated. Enhancers affecting psychological factors in isolation
would not be helpful. An enhancer that only improves morality in the
judgemental mode would produce subjects sounding like self-assured
moralisers who are not more moral themselves. An enhancer that im-
proves moral performance, while leaving subjects unsure why they are
so good, would be quite disorienting. Busily correcting the behaviour
of others while resting content with ones own morality would expose
a subject to the charge of hypocrisy. Moralising, self-doubt, and hypoc-
risy would render a subjects moral life incoherent and incapacitated. By
contrast, a moral enhancer significantly elevating all three modes would
make a subject noticeably more righteousin attitude and action.
This essay now proceeds by considering a singular type of moral
enhancement that improves morality through the final corrective
mode in the generous genericdirection. We shall label this type
of intervention Moral Righteousness. A morally righteous person,
we agree to say, is not merely generous with stern moralistic judge-
ments, but also takes concrete action to exemplify them personally
and have those judgements enforced on others. Any partisan side to
a controversy over rights would be keenly interested in attracting
the energies aroused by moral righteousness.
The invention of corrective moral enhancement, if its neurological
mechanisms were understood to some degree, could be paired with its
counterpart, moral enhancement reduction. Before examining the
possible benefits of preventing and reducing moral righteousness
for the purpose of promoting civil rights, the next sections first con-
sider whether moral enhancement holds the moral high ground as a
human right or a civil liberty.
3. The Morality of Moral Righteousness
If every sort of moral enhancement were treated (wrongly, in my
view) as just a non-therapeutic procedure for beneficial self-improve-
ment, then many questions might be easily answered. Respecting the
liberty of people to access such a procedure, absent safety or efficacy
concerns, is consistent with modern liberal societies and non-intru-
sive governments. Governments are nevertheless capable of excessive
regulation, especially when something new offers lifestyle alterna-
tives disturbing to conventional opinion, or offends mainstream
moral sensibilities.
Government should at least respect the liberty
Matt Lamkin, Regulating Identity: Medical Regulation as Social
Control,BYU Law Review 2(2016), 501573.
Is Moral Enhancement a Right, or a Threat to Rights?
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of competent adults to refuse a procedure unconnected with public
health and safety.
If government can refrain from indulging
popular prejudices and maintain respect for individual liberties,
then moral enhancement would be treated much like an innocuous
lifestyle choice, akin to a health regimen. The right of people to
accept or decline moral enhancement has secure political grounds if
it is classified as non-therapeutic self-improvement.
In truth, morality is not just another option for self-improvement.
A right to Moral Righteousness has firmer grounds in morality itself,
rendering moral enhancement more obligatory. If morality is the re-
pository for whatever we can understand as worthy and right, then
morality itself must truly be worthy and right. As morality directs
us to unfailingly pursue what is worthy and right, then people have
a moral duty to become more moral. That superior duty is indifferent
to individual preferences and lifestyle choices. To leave vital moral
virtues and values in an underdeveloped and unappreciated condition
is practically as immoral as violating them. A basic argument can be
constructed favouring the enhancement of all morality to any
People have a moral duty to accept safe moral enhancement.
(Moral Growth)
Moral Growth is always good for ones self and others. (Moral
So, people always have a moral duty to consent to safe moral
enhancement. (Moral Perfectionism)
Moral Perfectionism is not comfortable with people freely accepting
or declining moral enhancement: it is only right for people to be
morally enhanced, and it is never right to avoid moral enhancement.
As far as morality can see, Moral Perfectionism is compatible with
corrective moral enhancement, and it even encourages corrective
Moral Perfectionism strengthens ones commitments to moral
values. (by definition)
Moral enhancement could be linked to questionable therapeutic goals;
see Harris Wiseman, The Myth of the Moral Brain: The Limits of Moral
Enhancement (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016), chap. 8; and Sarah
Carter, Could Moral Enhancement Interventions Be Medically
Indicated?Health Care Analysis 25:4 (2017), 338353.
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Strong commitment to moral values is consistent with motiva-
tions to ensure that others must conform or be corrected.
Hence, Moral Perfectionism approves motivations to ensure con-
formity through corrections.
Corrective moral enhancement efficiently heightens motivations
to ensure conformity through corrections. (by definition)
Therefore, Moral Perfectionism approves corrective moral
Finally, since Moral Perfectionisms approval of corrective moral
enhancement practically amounts to an approval of Moral
Righteousness, the moral duty of people to consent to moral enhance-
ment extends to a duty to become Morally Righteous. So long as
Moral Growth and Moral Beneficence are acceptable, a final conclu-
sion seems to follow: everyone has a moral duty to become more
Morally Righteous.
The Morally Righteous themselves would not endorse that general
conclusion, because generic moral enhancement is involved here. No
Morally Righteous person would approve of the enhancement of
values that he or she views as immoral. For a population displaying
ample disagreement over moral values and how to prioritise them,
generic moral enhancement generously distributed throughout a
society would deepen those divides. Each Morally Righteous
person would vastly prefer selectively generic moral enhancement
for those already in agreement (and morphic moral enhancement
for those who are not in agreement). Readers who have been thinking,
Just let people who are right get moral enhancement for righteous-
ness, and forbid that enhancementto those who are wrong, already
understand what these Morally Righteous people must think.
The typical Morally Righteous person would in effect be a Moral
Puritan, let us say, convinced that others should conform to righteous
moral values (which are always this Puritans own values).
Puritanismis a term with religious connotations that play no role
here; Moral Puritanism for this essays purposes is simply driven
by moral conviction to devote resources to increasing social conform-
ity, irrespective of any association with a religious or secular world-
view. No-one wants the label of Puritanattached to them, of
course. Purveyors of ethical enhancementwould doubtless
inform us how to distinguish the truly Righteous from the misguided
Puritan every Puritan movement has its ethical apologists.
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Because this essay takes no stand on moral philosophy, it remains ag-
nostic about where righteous morality can always be found. We shall
have to leave the Morally Righteous to their moral cacophony, as
they criminalise what they can agree upon, and tolerate what they
cannot. Are they so different from us in our societies today? Perhaps
not. As we imagine a hypothetical future society in which most
people have become Morally Righteous, we could be forgiven for
hoping that our society does not become more like theirs. Our world
already has plenty of moral disagreement and social fractiousness, con-
vulsing many countries with civic tensions and the occasional civil war.
Morally Righteous people are not insensitive to civil strife. Indeed,
a remedying proposal occurs to them. If only more people were
morally righteous, they would think, then a majority of morally right-
eous people would emerge, and the law could enforce conformity
with that moral majority. Moral groups in the minority can quarrel
with that outcome, of course. Yet they would have no right to com-
plain about the illegality of their way of life, as far as the Morally
Righteous can see, since those moral minorities are neither righteous
nor right. Where civil strife is due to moral conflict between large
sectors of society, a dominant moral majority is a blunt but practical
remedy. However, until a Morally Righteous majority is well-estab-
lished, as far as society as a whole can tell, any would-be moral major-
ity is neither so moral nor a majority.
4. A Right to Righteousness?
Undeterred by their status as a moral majority only in name, a group of
common-minded Moral Puritans would encourage people of lesser con-
viction to join them in Moral Righteousness. Those unsure about a
moral issue would not use Moral Righteousness to learn what is right.
Still, there may already be enough morally agreeable people who only
lack strong commitment. Generic moral enhancement for them would
amount to a conversion into Moral Righteousness and membership
among the Moral Puritans. Moral Puritans have this argument to advance:
People have a moral duty to accept safe moral enhancement of
their stable moral values. (Moral Growth)
Moral Growth is always good for ones self and others. (Moral
People cannot be denied a liberty right to access moral and
beneficial resources. (Right to Morality)
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Therefore, People have a right to freely pursue moral enhance-
ment. (Right to Righteousness)
Moral Puritans would vastly prefer that only people who are
already morally agreeable take advantage of accessible righteousness.
Nevertheless, unable to regulate access to moral enhancement (yet),
Moral Puritans could at least support a broad Right to Righteousness,
in the hopes that they could eventually win an enhancement race
by attaining majority status. With a Right to Righteousness securely
recognised, society cannot obstruct the growth of the Morally
Righteous towards a hoped-for Puritan Majority.
By this reasoning, a typical Puritan-minded group would approve
of a legally recognised right to moral enhancement, especially if that
group was already a significant segment of society. As for the rest of
society, with Puritanical efforts approaching effective levels, moral
enhancement may be a good idea for everyone.
Puritanical moral determination is best countered by determined
moral opposition. (Moral Counterpoise)
So, the safeguard against Puritanical social reformis general
moral enhancement. (Moral Standoff)
Therefore, all people have a right to freely pursue moral enhance-
ment. (Right to Righteousness)
Two arguments now stand favouring a general Right to
Righteousness, representing both Puritanical and non-Puritanical
interests. This right is general, the moral enhancement is generic,
and the degree of enhancement is left indefinite.
Anyone has the right, by these arguments, to enhance any moral
stance to any (available) degree. Only efficacious limitations will slow
someones moral ambitions, if wisdom cannot. The neural interven-
tions making moral enhancement possible will not know when to
stop working when good enoughmorals have been attained. We
may not be able to tell when morality is still being enhanced. The am-
biguities to enhancementcometotheforeaswetrytoclassify
conduct transcending familiar normalities.
Under which special
circumstances would peculiar conduct still count as moral? What
posthumans,übermensch, or angels must do will surpass our
John Shook and James Giordano, Neuroethics Beyond Normal:
Performance Enablement and Self-Transformative Technologies,Cambridge
Quarterly of Health Care Ethics 25:1 (2016), 121140.
Is Moral Enhancement a Right, or a Threat to Rights?
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understanding. Either improved morals are still answerable to our
moral judgement (so those morals cannot advance very far), or we
must surrender judgement to whomever claims moral superiority (so
our morals cannot be so good). Any sufficiently advancedmorality
may be indistinguishable from indecency or evil.
It seems wiser to rely on what we do understand about morality.
Can present-day society figure out where to place boundaries on
access to moral enhancement?
Motivations for limiting or denying a right to moral enhancement
are not difficult to imagine. Privileged classes of society could not be
indifferent about Moral Righteousness for aggrieved classes, to begin
with. And Moral Righteousness can alarm the many, as well as the
few. The majority of society could deny a right to enhance certain
moral views on the grounds that they cause behaviours widely
deemed too immoral, perverse, or dangerous. Similarly, if resulting
conduct due to enhancing certain moral views (immoral views, for
the majority) encourages criminality, denying a right to such en-
hancement would be expected. The majority could also deny a
right to enhance morality on the grounds that resulting conduct
would impede or contravene an established right. Furthermore, the
majority could deny a right to enhance particular moral views if the
righteously enhanced would obstruct or delay the establishment of
a new right favoured by many.
Defending a Right to Righteousness from an entrenched majority
opinion or established legal system might resort to the strategy of
portraying this putative right as a human right. Compared against
other rights, what is the measure of the importance for a Right to
Over the past three centuries, declarations and constitutions have
offered lists of essential rights. Peter Baehr recounts the culmination
of those endeavours:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the
UN General Assembly as a resolution. Such resolutions have the
legal status of recommendation, which means that they are not
legally binding. However, it is by now commonly accepted that
the so-called core rightsin the Universal Declaration have
acquired the status of (binding) international customary law.
Core rights are rights that are indispensable for an existence in
This point, familiar to theologians, exposes incoherencies to specula-
tion about creating morally superior beings. Consider Vojin Rakić,We
Must Create Beings with Moral Standing Superior to Our Own,
Cambridge Quarterly of Health Care Ethics 24:1 (2015), 5865.
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human dignity and therefore need absolute protection. They
include the right to life and the right to the inviolability of the
human person, including the prohibition of slavery, serfdom,
and torture, wrongful detention, discrimination and other acts
that violate human dignity. In addition, the right to freedom of
religion is often mentioned in this list.
A Right to Righteousness cannot rank among these core rights. It is
not essential to the freedom of thought and expression of moral views:
it is not necessary for living according to ones moral conscience, as-
sociating with those in moral agreement, or urging others to agree.
The generic enhancement of moral righteousness is not to be con-
fused with the basic ability to be a morally conscientious person. A
Right to Righteousness goes far beyond a right to live morally, by
affecting the moral lives of others. A right to ones moral conscience
is vulnerable to oppression and surely deserves legal protection.
Protection from the zealous righteousness of others must not be left
to chance. Protecting a Right to Righteousness, which presupposes
moral conscience, could not take precedence over the ability of
everyone to freely possess a moral conscience.
Describing moral righteousness as a potential threat to moral con-
science can sound like a contradiction in terms. If a conscience is truly
moral, righteousness would respect it. But what is truly moral?
The Morally Righteous do esteem moral conscience in anyone, but
they see far less value in anyonesimmoralconscience. Psychologically,
this is true of any of us. A warning against a Puritan majoritysinability
to respect the consciences of smaller groups serves equally well as a
warning against any majority righteously concerned with immorality.
Sociologically, that is true of any majority. Pretending that society
need only be concerned with criminality while mere immorality falls
short of social sanction keeps up the pretense that societyslawsare
not connected to societys moral views. How is a Puritan majority so
different from any social majority? If social majorities have the
right to enforce important moral norms by law, so long as human
rights remain respected, then a Puritan majority has that right, and
its Moral Righteousness only threatens serious immorality.
Philosophically, this is true if every morality deserves enforcement.
Puritans acquire their distasteful reputations while they are in the mi-
nority; they retain that reputation as majorities only from an external
standpoint. All the same, no Righteous majority needs a Right to
Peter Baehr, Human Rights: Universality in Practice (Berlin: Springer,
2016), 4.
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Righteousness to uphold civic morals, and no small Righteous group
requires a Right to Righteousness to find moral society for company.
Ethically, this is true regardless of whether the Righteous know what
is truly moral or not. Whether in the company of the majority or
not, each conscience at least counts as something not to be overpowered
or overruled without due moral consideration.
All things considered, enhancement for Moral Righteousness does
not hold the moral, civic, or political high ground. Society may there-
fore prohibit access to Moral Righteousness enhancement if it
inspires conduct attempting to impede or deny a human right, or
any right needed for upholding a human right.
5. Moral Righteousness as a Civil Liberty
The conclusion of the previous section suggests that the freedom of
adults to obtain Moral Righteousness should not be infringed, so
long as one can conduct oneself civilly. Access to civil Moral
Righteousness may amount to a civil liberty, in the sense that it per-
tains to the civic life of a citizen and it is worthy of protection from gov-
ernment infringement.
A government able to prohibit access to civil
Moral Righteousness would be a government able to infringe upon
access to conventional means of arousing moral indignation, inspiring
moral idealism, and activating moral energies. That government is on a
collision course with freedom of conscience, freedom of speech,
freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of religion.
Furthermore, because righteous social action translates easily into the
sphere of political action, denying access to civil Moral Righteousness
without compelling justification amounts to unequal treatment and a
violation of civil rights. There are compelling justifications, however.
First and foremost, a government would be justified in scrutinising
and regulating neurotechnological moral enhancement to ensure its
safety, efficacy, and consistency with civil conduct and civil order.
Second, additional government control over moral righteousness is
probably warranted. Imagining a society in which access to civil
Moral Righteousness is largely unfettered returns us to that
There are analogous civil liberties. Citizens already access ordinary
means of moral improvement, to the point of righteous social action and cor-
rective civic activism, and they should have the liberty to do so without ob-
structive government scrutiny or regulation. Many organisations, secular
and religious, offer principled exhortations to recruit people for community
activism projects and political action agendas.
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hypothetical scenario in which much of society is undergoing moral
enhancement to run in a righteousness race that no-one can win.
Perhaps moral stalemates and political stand-offs will permit an
uneasy but stable equilibrium. But perhaps not. Society as a whole
may be the loser in the long run. Two concerns for social welfare
and civic life are paramount.
First, morally righteous groups have large incentives to not only
assist members with access to moral enhancement, but to additionally
pressure members into undergoing moral enhancement. It requires
no stretch of the imagination to foresee how the Morally Righteous
would be motivated to compel moral enhancement as a condition
of membership and eligibility for status within the group. If moral
enhancement is always an unadulterated good, where is the clear
line to show people where enough is enough? Unable to see anything
but the beaconing light of moral perfection, the Morally Righteous
might be the least likely to know when or how to stop. The eventual
consequences could be deleterious for both in-group members and
out-group targets of righteous indignation, as the liberty to morally
enhance slowly morphs into the confinement of mental cages. This
is not a path towards ethical sensitivity or human enlightenment.
Second, many morally righteous groups, all accelerating their mo-
mentum simultaneously, must find themselves on a collision course
with each other. The erosion of public discourse and the rise of
social tensions can only result from highly energised organisations
eager and willing to criminalise each other out of existence.
Utopian plans about general moral enhancement leading everyone
towards a new ethical age of harmony and peace are entertaining
but unrealistic. What that utopian actually wants is plenty of
morphic moral enhancement in uniformity with his or her own
ethical ideals. Unfettered generic moral enhancement will only
strengthen moral antagonisms, and weaken civic bonds in the long
run. Civil Moral Righteousness is only civil up to point when it is
not anymore, and by then it may be too late. This could not be a
civil liberty that is truly worth risking the loss of civic solidarity
and security.
Even worse outcomes are foreseeable. A privileged class with suf-
ficient political power could enforce moral righteousness for social
behaviours conducive to civic conformity and complacency. A
Morally Righteous majority may also look to moral enhancement,
both generic and morphic, as useful tools. Generic moral enhance-
ment for those already morally agreeable, and morphic moral
enhancement for immoral deviants, will appear on the political
agenda. Allowing general moral enhancement will no longer be on
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the agenda, and that civil liberty may be taken away by a sufficiently
Puritanical majority. Indeed, the corresponding civil liberty to refuse
moral enhancement may be taken away. After all, that Puritanical ma-
jority will think, only a moral degenerate would refuse the opportun-
ity to become more morally normal, and such moral degeneracy
deserves no respect or toleration. Avoiding proper moral enhance-
ment could be criminalised by a Morally Righteous majority.
The notion of mandatory moral enhancement seems improbable at
present because experimental neurological interventions, medical ther-
apies, and non-therapeutic procedures all require informed consent.
But we are contemplating a powerful privileged class, or a puritanically
principled regime, wielding proven moral enhancement and ample
motivation to use it. It does appear that any government has justifica-
tions for severely restricting access to civil Moral Righteousness. The
drive for perfection behind Moral Righteousness cannot be as good
as they seem.
6. The Wrongs of Righteousness
Moral Perfectionism should be deeply questioned. It observes no dis-
tinction between remedying moral deficiencies and surpassing moral
normalcy. Moral Perfectionism does not consult societys expecta-
tions about sufficiently moral conduct. Furthermore, it overrides a
persons own judgement about appropriate devotion to moral
matters. For Moral Perfectionism, no matter how moral a person
may already be, a duty to undergo more moral enhancement awaits.
If Moral Perfectionism is rejected, then its supporting premises,
Moral Growth and Moral Beneficence, must be questioned.
Moral Growth: People have a moral duty to accept safe moral
Moral Beneficence: Moral Growth is always good for ones self
and others.
It is not easy to question Moral Growth. Common sense says that
morality must be a very good thing, surely as good as anything else
in life, and probably needed for any genuine good to come from
life. All the same, common sense also says that uncommon moral
zeal is rarely so pure and beneficent.
There is no duty to pursue any of our moral values to extremes.
Wisdom cautions that a moderate and balanced commitment to
central virtues and values is more congenial to our enterprises and
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relationships over the course of a lifetime.
Must moral duty compel
more and more moral ability? If we are speaking in generalities,
perhaps, but no neurological enhancement will demonstrably
improve just moral abilityin general or in the abstract. No
essenceto morality could represent a practical goal, either.
Platitudes about caring, sharing, sacrificing, protecting, loving (and
so on) are ethical ideals, to which no actual moral enhancer will cor-
respond with any specificity. Saintly figures exemplifying one key
virtue must be partly mythical we are instructed to become more
like many of them, not to become one of them.
Cautionary principles apply once again. An actual moral enhancer
will at best partially modify one or another aspect of human conduct
having certain moral ramifications along with other non-moral impli-
cations. For any specific moral capacity, distorting its role to the point
of domination over, or distraction from, ones moral life is a course
that hardly seems advisable, much less dutiful. Replacing these two
idealised premises about moral growth and beneficence yields a real-
istic aim for moral improvement:
People have a prevailing duty to attain and maintain social stan-
dards for morality, which are (almost) always good for ones self
and others. (Moral Adequacy)
Alternatively, ones prevailing duty could aspire to a critically minimal
People have a prevailing duty to attain and maintain respect for
core human rights and important corollary rights and liberties.
(Moral Decency)
Arguments justifying moral enhancement to the point of satisfying
Moral Decency could be advanced at this stage, but this essay will not
digress into that issue.
Moral Righteousness is clearly in tension with both Moral Adequacy
and Moral Decency. General and generic Moral Righteousness will not
closely follow pre-existing social standards, since multifarious moral en-
hancement will somewhere and somehow exceed whatever counts as
moral normalcy in a society. Moral Righteousness can even lead to vio-
lations of Moral Decency. Someones moral convictions, sufficiently
William Kabasenche, Moral Formation and Moral Enhancement,
AJOB Neuroscience 7:2 (2016), 130131.
See I. Glenn Cohen, This Is Your Brain on Human Rights: Moral
Enhancement and Human Rights,Law and Ethics of Human Rights 9:1
(2015), 141.
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exaggerated and energised, can motivate a denial of someone elses
human rights, civil rights, or important liberties. History is replete
with illustrative examples too numerous to recount. Puritanical deter-
mination has accompanied pro and con sides to lengthy and torturous
struggles over rights and liberties down to our own times. Shall we be
resigned to such slow progress? Perhaps not.
In an earlier section, an argument was offered in favour of permit-
ting Moral Righteousness which was premised on that resignation:
Puritanical moral determination is best countered by determined
moral opposition. (Moral Counterpoise)
So, the safeguard against Puritanical social reformis general
moral enhancement. (Moral Standoff)
Yet there is a proactive alternative available to society. Puritanical
moral determination can be more effectively countered by preventing
its intensification, suggesting that society may resort to denying
access to general and generic Moral Enhancement.
There is no right to uncivil Moral Righteousness, and no right to
Moral Righteousness conducive to the rise of a Puritanical majority.
Why should there be a right to Moral Righteousness for sectors of
society enabling them to delay the advancement of human and civil
rights and liberties? Holding and expressing moral views, associating
with like-minded advocates, and engaging in public protest and civil
disobedience, is not at issue. What can be questioned is a right to a
technology designed for moral zealotry and aggressive activism, so
easily targeted against equal rights and expanded liberties for others.
7. The Righteousness of Conformity
Repressing retrograde Moral Righteousness need not be the first
resort. If a majority of society is already persuaded of the urgency
to enlarge or equalise a right, swift codification renders the opposition
unable to access newly uncivil enhancement. However, if a resolute
majority has not yet congealed, which partisan position is in the
right to demand that others refrain from intensifying their resolve
while righteously enhancing their own side?
The inattentive reader is naturally supposing that whoever is truly
in the right must not be denied access to Moral Righteousness. The
attentive reader is noticing the argumentative symmetry now threa-
tening our deliberations. Did we already clarify who the morally
righteous side will always be? We did say that no Puritanical majority
should get the opportunity to righteously congeal and suppress its
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opposition. Of course, from the standpoint of the rest of society, a
Righteous majority is the Puritanical majority. Lacking moral philo-
sophys final call, that moral standoff has returned in converse form:
Denying access to excessive moral enhancement safeguards against
any Puritanical social reform. (Righteousness Prevention)
Righteousness Prevention recognises one argumentative symmetry,
but a second symmetry awaits on another axis. We are unable to
declare in advance who would have the moral high ground for future con-
tests over new rights, having no finalised ethical theory in hand, and we
cannot yet say whose moral improvement encroaches on dangerously
righteous enhancement, either. Did we lay down that bright line where
moral improvement intensifies beyond the level of Moral Decency and
surpasses Moral Adequacy? From one righteous standpoint, an increase
in moral ability still falls regrettably short; from another righteous stand-
point, such improvementis too excessive or even a moral disablement.
Moral enhancementwas not defined from the outset as improvement
above Moral Adequacy precisely in order to anticipate this local moral
relativity. Nevertheless, a society could decide that promoting Moral
Righteousness, up to the level of Moral Adequacy, would helpfully in-
crease the number of satisfactorily moral people, who are also eager to
promote the conformity of still more people.
For example, society could promote the prevention of theft with an
enticement offered to everyone: if you sincerely believe that theft is
immoral, accept an inexpensive procedure for Moral Righteousness
with regard to stealing and receive a government incentive in
return. Governments already subsidise and incentivise innumerable
programmes to alter the publics behaviour for the general welfare.
The degree of Moral Righteousness could be scientifically calibrated
to ensure stricter conformity with Moral Adequacy without causing
overzealous excesses. This voluntary programme seems both
morally right (by definition only what is right is promoted) and
consistent with the liberty to accept or decline the programme.
Government can incentivise acceptance of Moral Righteousness
to elevate conformity to common moral standards. (Righteousness
No government pressure is necessary. Those avoiding enhancement
only confess their immorality, the masses will think.
As the
Ethics is for bad guys!, as John Harris puts it, in How to Be Good:
The Possibility of Moral Enhancement (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2016), chap. 7.
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number of Righteous Conformers gradually increases, they will apply
the usual peer pressures and social coercions in order to grow the
number of conformists. Those who refuse enhancement will be
understood as either expressing their doubt that theft could ever
tempt them, or signaling their preference that stealing remains an
option. Either way, trust is easily secured by acceding to enhance-
ment. Proof of righteousness could be attached to housing and loan
applications, employment criteria, promotion decisions, and even
boardroom appointments.
In the long run, Righteous Conformists could conceivably become
a vast majority of the population, enveloping even politicians and bu-
reaucrats. As a permanent Righteous majority, they would enforce
the common moral norms so rigidly, generation after generation,
that any reform movement urging a novel deviation would be dispar-
aged (if not criminalised). If establishing a moral government enfor-
cing serious morality standards for a highly moral society is the goal,
then voluntary Moral Righteousness towards near-total Righteous
Conformity sounds like an efficient means. Righteous Conformity
could also mean endless moral rigidity, accompanied by overall
cultural stagnation. Which society really has the right to imprison
future generations with whatever passes for moral adequacy now-
adays? If authentic moral progress deserves a chance, then
Righteous Conformity is not really right.
Moral Righteousness to elevate conformity to common moral
standards should not have social approval or legal sanction.
(Moral Nonconformity)
Moral Nonconformity sounds illicit, but that retention of social
flexibility preserves adaptability as well as liberty. There is little
reason to allow societys current norms to rigidly set the bar for
many people forever, as moral relativists and moral objectivists can
agree. And society can agree, too. Ask anyone disappointment
with what passes for public morals is heard from plenty of people.
An appetite for moral improvement, at least for others if not oneself,
is not scarce, but it is not uniform, either. Righteous Restraint at most
offers a tenuous compromise, since little concrete meaning is assign-
able to excessivemoral enhancement. Disagreement over what
counts as excessive moral righteousness will only serve as a proxy
fight over the underlying moral disagreement. Righteous standoffs
again appear to be unavoidable, with access to Moral Righteousness
at the center of the struggle.
The value of short-cut moral improvement must be seriously
doubted. What seemed like a straight-forward means to moral
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progress has led straight into a roadblock. What was supposed to be
lacking, moral conviction and determination, is what can always
erupt in abundance. That explains why titanic struggles over
modest progress in the name of rights must be fomented and
endured practically every time.
8. The Case of Government v. Righteousness
Righteous crusades conflicting over a right typically delay com-
promise or resolution by disrupting regular political deliberations
and sidelining cooler-headed debates. Previous sections have
pointed out how access to Moral Righteousness can only exacerbate
those delays. If the sort of moral enhancement permitting Moral
Righteousness is invented, there are good reasons to discourage
its use.
Prohibiting access to Moral Righteousness mitigates righteous
crusades over rights. (Righteousness De-Escalation)
Moral disagreement should not be weeded out of society, but it
need not grow to strangle society. Two prior guidelines can also
provide assistance here:
Denying access to excessive moral enhancement safeguards
against any Puritanical social reform. (Righteousness Prevention)
Moral Righteousness to elevate conformity to common moral stan-
dards should not have social approval or legal sanction. (Moral
Combining all three, there is an imperative to discourage Righteous
Access to Moral Righteousness should be tightly regulated and
illegal for most people, excepting only for rare therapeutic
cases. (Criminalised Righteousness)
Criminalised Righteousness should not be confused with govern-
ment oppression of civil reform movements. No society could, or
should, try to obstruct or crush civil crusades. The moral energies of
the oppressed and the outraged propel the advancement of rights
and liberties as much as anything.
Limited moral enhancement
This essay is premised on rejecting liberalisms ideal of public debate
proceeding without appeals to devoutly-held values. This essays concerns
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could be useful. The weaker modes judgemental and performative
enhancement do not fall under as much suspicion as corrective
moral enhancement. No society should be obliged to fracture the
civic bonds for which civil rights exist. Countries torn by cultural
struggles, or countries making progress on rights, might be interested
in de-enhancing Righteousness as well as criminalising Righteousness.
9. The Morality of De-Enhancing Morality
Enhancing the advocacy and enshrinement of civil rights would be ma-
terially aided by forbidding Moral Righteousness enhancement. That
goal could be pursued through encouraging Moral Righteousness di-
minishment as well. The diminishment of Moral Righteousness
would be a technological intervention that alters neural functioning
which happens to lessen interest in corrective measures taken
against violators of the subjects moral judgements, without affecting
those judgements to a significant degree. For a label, let us call a
workable intervention Moral Toleration.
Moral Toleration, as defined, does not alter a persons self-concep-
tion of who they are as a person with moral dignity and rights, includ-
ing the right to ones own moral views and the liberty to express them
in ones lifestyle. Moral Toleration, accordingly, only tempers a
persons capacity to participate in, or lend support for, the prevention
of others from pursuing those same rights and liberties. Nor is this
hypothetical technique for tempering moralistic righteousness
about weakening morality or inspiring moral relativism. Subjects of
this technique, if successfully developed, would maintain the same
moral convictions and pass the same moral judgements as before,
and their own conduct would be unaffected. Other notions of toler-
ance, detached from moral psychology, may or may not imply the be-
havioural adjustment due to Moral Toleration, since the idea of
toleration is complex and multifaceted for legal, political, and philo-
sophical purposes. For ethical purposes, moral tolerance is far less
worthy than mutual respect or communal solidarity. However, any
abstract conception of tolerance should at least embrace the same
aim as Moral Toleration to have any practical merit.
Although Moral Tolerance has delimited behavioural aims, could
its widespread usage lead to unacceptably unjust results? Like any
about righteousness within politics presume an essential role for all citizens
and their values.
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other sort of enhancement, it cannot automatically be good or just.
We may envision a future reform movement, without resistance from
a too-tolerant majority, inflicting undue harms on other social
groups, rearranging statuses to the unfair detriment of many, or dis-
rupting the social order beyond repair. However, Moral Tolerance
does not diminish anyones concerns for regular social order, fairly
distributed privileges, or harms to public welfare. These concerns,
while less moralistically defended, would still matter to people and
motivate them to the same degree, so unjust reforms would be criti-
cised and reconsidered on those accounts.
With these provisions in mind, a government could tentatively
promote the acceptance of Moral Tolerance in a society to promote
the goal of increasing overall justice.
Government can incentivise acceptance of Moral Tolerance to
de-escalate moral righteousness. (Tolerance Conformity)
This promotion of Moral Tolerance does not suffer from the problems
inherent to Righteousness Conformity. Tolerance Conformity does
not threaten any violation of human rights. Even if broad moral toler-
ance were to spread throughout a society, neither human rights nor
established civil rights and liberties would suffer. Disruptions to the
comfortable social order (especially to those feeling quite comfortable
with their status and privilege) could ensue, but such discomforts
would be more easily ameliorated if moral tolerance prevailed over
moral righteousness.
What does the world need now? Lauding moral tolerance must
sound as futuristically optimistic as the high hopes bestowed on
moral enhancement. Neither will come into practical usage in the
forms envisaged even by the most well-informed researchers, but
the lures are potent and the ends are beckoning. The pursuit of
justice and equality, in the form of enlarged civil rights and expanded
civil liberties, has never been easy but need not be so hard. This
pursuit might deserve Moral Righteousness, or it might require
Moral Toleration. If one can be invented, so can the other which
does the world need more?
Bowie State University
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When talking about the relationship between moral behavior and brain functional localization, the former involves various moral abilities, and the latter refers to the specific brain network structures related to psychological functions. Moral behavior refers to the behavior that is beneficial or harmful to others or society, including good behavior and bad behavior. The moral consequence caused by brain injury is mainly demonstrated by immoral behavior, which is of great theoretical and practical value. By summarizing studies on whole-brain coordinated activities of morality, the present study attempts to clarify the influence of specific brain damages on moral behavior. The results showed that for the cerebral cortex, injury to the frontal cortex (i.e., the command and control center of the brain), leads to self-functional damage and further servility or blind obedience. In particular, the frontal cortex injury during infancy may cause risks for moral development. Next, orbital frontal cortex (OFC) injury mainly causes impairment in risky decision-making, social emotion, and self-information correction. Corresponding moral consequences include ignoring social etiquette and norms, and difficulties in establishing and maintaining close relationships. Also, injury to the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) may result in the damage of learning adaptation, abstract event judgment, self-control, and other functions. Relevant moral consequences are moral utilitarian preference and "acquired social disease", which is expressed as impulse behavior. Furthermore, temporal cortex injury leads to potential decreased control of the cerebral cortex and disorder of activation of limbic structure that results in violent attacks and other problems. In the subcortical area, amygdala injury leads to some patients' serious violence; and injuries of hypothalamus, globus pallidus and septum lead to improper satisfaction of basic physiological needs, mainly manifested as sexual moral disorders. The effects of some other brain localization injuries are discussed in specific neural networks. With regard to the brain mechanism of morality, research on brain injury does not aim to explore the direct relationships between morality and the brain, but to investigate the role of intermediate elements such as the psychological process (e.g., social cognition) and mental ability (e.g., memory ability). It is easy to fall into the ethical dilemmas when the relationship between brain injury and moral consequences is simply analyzed and then applied. The first dilemma concerns whether patients with brain injury have enough free will or self-discipline, and if not, how to evaluate their immoral behavior. The second dilemma is, whether there exists universal moral and ethical principles, and if not, how to evaluate the value of intervention and treatment that are applied to improve the morality of patients with brain injury. The third dilemma is, whether the realization of certain moral changes owing to brain injury can reduce patients' stigmatization, and if not, what is the next step. Studies along with these research lines are called for in the future: The cognitive neural mechanism of moral behavior, the diversification of the sequelae of brain lesions, generalization of these research findings to the Chinese people, and so on.
Full-text available
The nature of moral action versus moral judgment has been extensively debated in numerous disciplines. We introduce Virtual Reality (VR) moral paradigms examining the action individuals take in a high emotionally arousing, direct action-focused, moral scenario. In two studies involving qualitatively different populations, we found a greater endorsement of utilitarian responses–killing one in order to save many others–when action was required in moral virtual dilemmas compared to their judgment counterparts. Heart rate in virtual moral dilemmas was significantly increased when compared to both judgment counterparts and control virtual tasks. Our research suggests that moral action may be viewed as an independent construct to moral judgment, with VR methods delivering new prospects for investigating and assessing moral behaviour.
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How should ethics help decide the morality of enhancing morality? The idea of morally enhancing the human brain quickly emerged when the promise of cognitive enhancement in general began to seem realizable. However, on reflection, achieving moral enhancement must be limited by the practical challenges to any sort of cognitive modification, along with obstacles particular to morality’s bases in social cognition. The objectivity offered by the brain sciences cannot ensure the technological achievement of moral bioenhancement for humanity-wide application. Additionally, any limited moral enhancement will not easily fulfil ethical expectations. Three hypothetical scenarios involving putative moral enhancement help illustrate why. Philosophical concerns about the “Does-Must Dichotomy” and the “Factor-Cause Plurality,” as I label them, forbid easy leaps from views about morality on to conclusions about ways to enhance morality, and then further on to ethically justifying those enhancements. A modest and realistic approach to moral enhancement emerges from exploring these issues.
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This paper explores the position that moral enhancement interventions could be medically indicated (and so considered therapeutic) in cases where they provide a remedy for a lack of empathy, when such a deficit is considered pathological. In order to argue this claim, the question as to whether a deficit of empathy could be considered to be pathological is examined, taking into account the difficulty of defining illness and disorder generally, and especially in the case of mental health. Following this, Psychopathy and a fictionalised mental disorder (Moral Deficiency Disorder) are explored with a view to consider moral enhancement techniques as possible treatments for both conditions. At this juncture, having asserted and defended the position that moral enhancement interventions could, under certain circumstances, be considered medically indicated, this paper then goes on to briefly explore some of the consequences of this assertion. First, it is acknowledged that this broadening of diagnostic criteria in light of new interventions could fall foul of claims of medicalisation. It is then briefly noted that considering moral enhancement technologies to be akin to therapies in certain circumstances could lead to ethical and legal consequences and questions, such as those regarding regulation, access, and even consent.
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An integrated and principled neuroethics offers ethical guidelines able to transcend conventional and medical reliance on normality standards. Elsewhere we have proposed four principles for wise guidance on human transformations. Principles like these are already urgently needed, as bio- and cyberenhancements are rapidly emerging. Context matters. Neither "treatments" nor "enhancements" are objectively identifiable apart from performance expectations, social contexts, and civic orders. Lessons learned from disability studies about enablement and inclusion suggest a fresh way to categorize modifications to the body and its performance. The term "enhancement" should be broken apart to permit recognition of enablements and augmentations, and kinds of radical augmentation for specialized performance. Augmentations affecting the self, self-worth, and self-identity of persons require heightened ethical scrutiny. Reversibility becomes the core problem, not the easy answer, as augmented persons may not cooperate with either decommissioning or displacement into unaccommodating societies. We conclude by indicating how our four principles of self-creativity, nonobsolescence, empowerment, and citizenship establish a neuroethics beyond normal that is better prepared for a future in which humans and their societies are going so far beyond normal.
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Moral enhancement is an ostensibly laudable project. Who wouldn’t want people to become more moral? Still, the project’s approach is crucial. We can distinguish between two approaches for moral enhancement: direct and indirect. Direct moral enhancements aim at bringing about particular ideas, motives or behaviors. Indirect moral enhancements, by contrast, aim at making people more reliably produce the morally correct ideas, motives or behaviors without committing to the content of those ideas, motives and/or actions. I will argue, on Millian grounds, that the value of disagreement puts serious pressure on proposals for relatively widespread direct moral enhancement. A more acceptable path would be to focus instead on indirect moral enhancements while staying neutral, for the most part, on a wide range of substantive moral claims. I will outline what such indirect moral enhancement might look like, and why we should expect it to lead to general moral improvement.
The ultimatum game is a common economic experiment in which some participants reject another's unfair offer of how to split some money, even though it leaves them both worse off. This costly behavior can be seen as enforcement of a fairness norm and has been labeled “altruistic punishment”, suggesting that it is a moral thing to do. But is this behavior viewed as moral by participants? Is it viewed as punishment? And are the payoff consequences of the behavior sufficient to determine the answers to these questions? To investigate this we framed costly punishment in two different ways: either as rejection of an offer (the standard ultimatum game framing) or as reduction of payoff. In a series of paid and hypothetical experiments we found that moral concerns about costly punishment depended on the framing. Specifically, the reduction frame elicited more moral concern about, and less use of, costly punishment than did the rejection frame. Several implications are discussed.