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Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine: An International Journal
SJR: 0.123

ISSN Print: 2151-805X
ISSN Online: 2151-8068

Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine: An International Journal

DOI: 10.1615/EthicsBiologyEngMed.v1.i2.40
pages 107-131

What Does It Mean to Be Human? Humanness, Personhood and the Transhumanist Movement

D. John Doyle
Department of General Anesthesiology, Cleveland Clinic, 4500 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44195


This paper asks the question "What does it mean to be human?", addressing the issue chiefly from the perspective of present and future possibilities for technical enhancements to people (and animals) and through genetic, pharmacologic and neuroengineering means. Drawing on Locke and his successors, I begin with an introduction to the problem of personhood, and then introduce the concepts of "moral standing," "liberal eugenics," and "transhumanism." Present and future possibilities for the pharmacologic, genetic and neuroprosthetic enhancement of human performance are discussed, focusing primarily on the ethical issues involved. The possibility of human / animal chimeras as means to provide enhancements to existing animal breeds is also discussed. I consider also the question of whether or not it is fundamentally wrong to alter humanity and human nature in the first place, the position advanced by many "bioconservatives." I end with a critique of the "bioconservative" position that argues against artificial human enhancements. In particular, I point out that disgust or repugnance for an entity or concept should not be taken as evidence that the entity or concept is intrinsically evil or harmful, a position popularized by Kass in his famous essay The Wisdom of Repugnance.