Problems of the current academic debate on human enhancement
R. Ter Meulen, M. Campbell et al. (dir.), workshop "Ethics of Human Enhancement: comparing the British and Japanese debate", Bristol Kyoto Strategic Fund, Kyoto, Japon, 1-2 mai 2014
Having worked for nearly fifteen years on the issue of human enhancement, I would like to present a few problems which to my mind mar the debate on the topic, through different routes. A first issue comes from the very use of the phrase “human enhancement”. Since 2008, I advocate an alternate designation based on the Greek roots “anthropos” and “techne”, my preference going to the term “anthropotechnology”. I would like to present this position I still advocate, in the light of the various activities conducted during my European Marie Curie fellowship at the Centre for Ethics in Medicine of the University of Bristol: a series of 24 interviews in France and the UK (“French and British Contemporary Ethical Debates on Human Enhancement: Building Dialogue and Shared Vocabulary” project); the coorganisation of the first "Anthropotech and Philosophy Conference” on “cognitive enhancement and other technologies of the mind” (Bristol, January 2013); the English translation and doubling in volume of my 2008 paper (“From enhancement to anthropotechnology”) for a book directed by Darian Meacham under the title Medicine and Society, New Continental Perspectives. A second set of problems stems from the question raised by the role academic debate can play compared to the positions massively conveyed by popular culture, especially considering the fact that its products are prominently directed towards younger generations. If we take for example the two most widely sold manga series throughout the world, One Piece (345 million) and Dragon Ball (230 million), both tell stories of enhancing oneself above humanity. But this theme is also central to the UK best seller Harry Potter (450 million) which stages a world where magic gives those who can use it superhuman powers. And even the French best-seller series Asterix (350 million), which seems miles away from the contemporary question of human enhancement, revolves around a magic potion which gives its recipients superhuman strength. So should we consider that those works of fiction and many others (like US superheroes comics Superman, Spiderman, X-Men, etc.), although sold by the million and even the hundred million, do not play any role in the way human enhancement is really assessed?