Julian Savulescu says that moral enhancement is essential for humanity to triumph because human beings won’t become moral enough fast enough to save themselves just by trying to be better people, even given that they have Greta Thunberg.
He means he thinks that science should be used to make people morally better. I am not sure about this. Dogs have been subject to such enhancement for years, and look where it got Dachshunds (not very far in a pigeon-chasing competition if you get my drift). Some dogs have been bred to be moral whilst others seem bred merely to be fluffy, but rather than triumph we have taken the moral high ground. John Harris, who is a philosopher I greatly like for reasons which will become apparent, suggests that triumphing through moral enhancement would be a Pyrrhic victory.
Since meeting the Owner I have been subject to repeated and blatant attempts at moral enhancement, involving application of cheese in a frankly manipulative manner. When it first began I thought the Owner was simply generous on the cheese front. By the time I understood her purpose I was coerced by cheese and could barely visit the compost heap for long enough to catch the scent. It was not a matter of if I would sit, but when. Was I, at this point, a Good Dog? Or was I an automaton?
John Stuart Mill wrote;
‘The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.’
Oh perfidy. I was being oppressed. Mill, great libertarian, was clear, not even cheese makes this right.
Only in the possession of the freedom to refuse to return to the Owner can my Good Dog status exist. John Milton put this clearly in Paradise Lost, when he writes about God choosing to give Adam free will;
‘ I made him just and right, Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.’
He goes on to say there would have been nothing morally great about angels either, if they had been predestined to blind obedience.
‘Not free, what proof could they have given sincere Of true allegiance, constant faith or love?’
How can one be a Good Dog is one is never a Bad Dog? One risks being, simply, a Dog.
It all becomes clear. My Owner could surely not want a dog of so little moral character that he would simply come when called. My whole moral worth to my Owner (and to the world) is reliant on my disobeying orders. John Harris says ‘the space between knowing the good and doing the good is entirely occupied by freedom.’
In that space lies the compost heap. A Good Dog of moral fibre knows what he must do.
Do not manipulate me with your cheese, Woman. Simply obeying orders was never an acceptable excuse for anything.
The compost is calling.
Categories: cheese dignity dog dog philosophy John Harris Julian Savulescu Moral enhancement philosophy
Hergest the Hound
I am a dog of many thoughts.
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