Fakultät für Philosophie, Wissenschaftstheorie und Religionswissenschaft
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Scherrer, Nina

Nina Scherrer

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Dissertation

Can a pill make us more moral?

It would seem that recent neuroscientific research into the "moral brain” is already demonstrating that a person’s moral agency can be pharmaceutically improved, if only in limited laboratory settings. Yet it is a matter of ongoing (moral) disagreement if pharmacological or other biotechnological methods can, and should, ever replace or complement traditional (i.e. non-biotechnological) attempts at moral (self-) education. Whereas advocates of a “morality pill” appeal to the desirability, if not duty, of exploring (putatively) more effective strategies for improving individual moral behavior and society at large, opponents worry that either the (assumed) deterministic workings of biotechnologies, or advocate's emphasis on pro-social aspects of morality, or both, pose a considerable threat to individual freedom.

In view of this debate on so-called “(neuro-) enhancement of morality”, I address three closely related challenges that link to the age-old question of if, and how, the (morally) good or right life can be (self-) taught or bioengineered, for that matter. In particular, I investigate the conditions of determining the (1) goal of (moral) improvement in light of (moral) disagreement and uncertainty. Since advocates as well as opponents of a “morality pill” rely on relatively substantial, mainly Humean, Kantian, or Aristotelian, notions of (biological) morality and freedom, their positions are equally objectionable on grounds of circularity. I clarify the relationship between moral and free agency and, in doing so, conclude that the minimally necessary standard of (moral) improvement is the (epistemic) autonomy of the (biological) agent. Thus, though prominently defended in Kantian (moral) theorizing, I show how the minimal conditions of (epistemic) autonomy are indispensable for both moral and non-moral as well as theoretical and practical agency and, accordingly, are presupposed by any type of (meta-) ethics. Proceeding from the conditions of minimal (epistemic) autonomy, I examine the dynamics or (2) process of (moral) improvement with regards to the types of changes that would qualify as increasing or maximizing the (moral) autonomy of the (biological) agent. And finally, I turn to the (3) method of (moral) improvement by identifying possible (moral) differences between biotechnological and non-biotechnological attempts at improving (moral) autonomy.

Werdegang

since Oct 2016: Doc.Mobility fellowship (SNF) for visits to the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics (University of Oxford) and the Research Centre for Neurophilosophy and Ethics of Neurosciences (LMU)

since 2014: Doctorate in philosophy, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF)

2013: Trainee in Clinical Ethics at the University Hospital Bern, and in the 'Office of Science, Technology, and Higher Education' at the Embassy of Switzerland in the UK

2012: MA in ‘Political, Legal, and Economic Philosophy’ (University of Bern)

2010-2012: Tutorial assistant for the Chair of Practical Philosophy, and the Chair of Philosophy and History of Science (University of Bern); teaching assistance to courses in “Scientific Understanding”, “Classics of Philosophy of Science”, “Introduction to the Philosophy and History of Science”, and “Introduction to Ethics"

2010-2015: Board member of the Philosophical Society Bern “Krino”

2010: BA in Philosophy and Social Anthropology (University of Bern)