The Philosopher Who Says We Should Play God


Illustration by Jackie Ferrentino/ NAUTILUS
Why ethical objections to interfering with nature are too late.

By Steve Paulson | NAUTILUS

Australian bioethicist Julian Savulescu has a knack for provocation. Take human cloning. He says most of us would readily accept it if it benefited us. As for eugenics—creating smarter, stronger, more beautiful babies—he believes we have an ethical obligation to use advanced technology to select the best possible children.

A protégé of the philosopher Peter Singer, Savulescu is a prominent moral philosopher at the University of Oxford, where he directs the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. He also edits the Journal of Medical Ethics. Savulescu isn’t shy about stepping onto ethical minefields. He sees nothing wrong with doping to help cyclists climb those steep mountains in the Tour de France. Some elite athletes will always cheat to boost their performance, so instead of trying to enforce rules that will be broken, he claims we’d be better off with a system that allows low-dose doping.

So does Savulescu just get off being outrageous? “I actually think of myself as the voice of common sense,” he says, though he admits to receiving his share of hate mail. He’s frustrated by how hard it is to have reasoned arguments about loaded issues without getting flamed on the Internet. Savulescu thinks we need to become far more adept at sorting out difficult moral issues. Otherwise, he says, the human species will face dire consequences in the coming decades.

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