Defeaters to best interests reasoning in genetic enhancement

Philosophical Studies 174 (11):2845-2869 (2017)
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Pre-natal genetic enhancement affords us unprecedented capacity to shape our skills, talents, appearance and perhaps subsequently the quality of our lives in terms of overall happiness, success and wellbeing. Despite its powerful appeal, some have raised important and equally persuasive concerns against genetic enhancement. Sandel has argued that compassion and humility, themselves grounded in the unpredictability of talents and skills, would be lost. Habermas has argued that genetically altered individuals will see their lives as dictated by their parents’ design and therefore will not acquire an appropriate self-understanding. How should we view enhancement efforts in light of these concerns? I propose that we begin by adopting a defeasibility stance. That is, I ask whether our belief that genetic enhancements serve in the best interests of the child is reason to genetically enhance, underscoring a sort of epistemic vulnerability. I utilize the epistemological notions of defeasible reasons, undercutting and overriding defeaters in order to better understand and systematically evaluate the force of such concerns. I argue that close examination of both objections using this framework shows that we have reason to enhance, a reason that is defeasible but as yet, undefeated.



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Sruthi Rothenfluch
University of Portland