Moral Enhancement Via Direct Emotion Modulation: A Reply to John Harris

9 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2013

See all articles by Thomas Douglas

Thomas Douglas

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville

Date Written: March 2013


Some argue that humans should enhance their moral capacities by adopting institutions that facilitate morally good motives and behaviour. I have defended a parallel claim: that we could permissibly use biomedical technologies to enhance our moral capacities, for example by attenuating certain counterā€moral emotions. John Harris has recently responded to my argument by raising three concerns about the direct modulation of emotions as a means to moral enhancement. He argues (1) that such means will be relatively ineffective in bringing about moral improvements, (2) that direct modulation of emotions would invariably come at an unacceptable cost to our freedom, and (3) that we might end up modulating emotions in ways that actually lead to moral decline. In this article I outline some counterā€intuitive potential implications of Harris' claims. I then respond individually to his three concerns, arguing that they license only the very weak conclusion that moral enhancement via direct emotion modulation is sometimes impermissible. However I acknowledge that his third concern might, with further argument, be developed into a more troubling objection to such enhancements.

Keywords: moral enhancement, biomedical enhancement, moral education, emotion, freedom, John Harris

Suggested Citation

Douglas, Thomas, Moral Enhancement Via Direct Emotion Modulation: A Reply to John Harris (March 2013). Bioethics, Vol. 27, Issue 3, pp. 160-168, 2013, Available at SSRN: or

Thomas Douglas (Contact Author)

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville

1 Hairpin Drive
Edwardsville, IL 62026-1102
United States

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