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Don’t Mind the Gap: Intuitions, Emotions, and Reasons in the Enhancement Debate

In enhancement debates, “bioconservatives” appeal to wisdom of intuitions and emotions. So-called bioliberals try to rely on rational arguments and see intuitions and emotions mostly as sources of bias. But the methodological divide between the two camps is less significant than it is often taken to be.

Reliance on intuitive and emotive responses is widespread across many areas of bioethics. The current debate on biotechnological human enhancement is particularly interesting in this respect. A strand of “bioconservatives” that has explicitly drawn connections to the modern conservative tradition, dating back to Edmund Burke, appeals to the alleged wisdom of our intuitions and emotions to ground opposition to some biotechnologies or their uses. Such reliance on intuitions and emotions is widely acknowledged as one of the distinguishing features of this conservative strand by both its supporters and opponents.

So-called bioliberals, those who in principle do not oppose human bioenhancement, tend to rely on rational arguments and to see intuitions and emotions mostly as sources of biases. This approach often translates into shifting the burden of proof onto bioconservatives and challenging them to provide arguments against the proposed enhancement to back what bioliberals perceive as merely intuitive, emotive, and irrational reactions.

In this article, I am going to show that the methodological divide between bioliberals and bioconservatives is less significant than at first glance it appears to be and less significant than it is often taken to be. I will do so by defending two theses. The first is that reliance on intuitions and emotions is not a prerogative of bioconservatives: bioliberals have their typical intuitions and emotive responses and are for this reason exposed to potential biases in the same way as bioconservatives are. The second thesis is that reliance on intuitions and emotions is not necessarily antithetic to reason and rationality.

Alberto Giubilini