The Instigator
Pro (for)
3 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
8 Points

Genetic enhancement that enriches emotional well-being is ethical

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/24/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 5,531 times Debate No: 21478
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (33)
Votes (4)




Personally, I am deeply invested in this issue. One day, I hope to make a future career off related medical practices, and as of right now, I cannot fathom how it could be unethical. Truth be told, I've always wanted to live happily ever after.

Here's some background for the debate:

Within contemporary debates on the future of human evolution, two very different perspectives have emerged on the developing biomedical and biotechnological transformations of the living world: the bioconservative as opposed to the biorevolutionary.

Bioconservatism is perhaps best characterized by the notion that our technological advancements have effectively done away with natural selection, mutation, and random change. In short, natural human evolution is over. Or as distinguished geneticist Steve Jones puts it, "things have simply stopped getting better, or worse, for our species." Further, bioconservatives resist any kind of "artificial" change, and generally oppose, most prominently, genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive enhancement of human beings to overcome current (what they would call "natural") human biological limitations.

The other side of this debate is the progressive, biorevolutionary position, which argues that human evolution is about to accelerate. We are on the eve, so we are told, of an era of artificial selection and personalized reproductive medicine: "designer babies," to use the popular term. Some scientists already predict that our genetically enhanced successors won't grow old and die, or that if we die, our brains will potentially be restored from digital backup. Others have predicted a biosingularity revolution, in which the exponentially-increasing intelligence of "posthumans" will result in explosive superintelligence.

And yet, few bioethicists have turned their attention to the possibility of genetically pre-programmed emotional well-being, or happiness, or whatever you want to call it. Furthermore, implicit in this possibility is the accompanying idea that our descendants could lead lives bereft of any and all psychological pain.

Some basic rules. The first round will be for accepting this debate, and Con can post any opening statements or questions. I accept full responsibility to make the first argument, but if my opponent wants to go first, he/she may do so. Finally, burden of proof is shared.


This is my first debate, I accept the challenge by claiming that it is ethically wrong to produce genetic enhancements to enrich the emotional well being.

Since this is an ethical debate, pertaining to science and medicine, I believe we should adhere to the ruling ethical principle of physicians, the Oath of Hippocrates, "never do harm".

Before we proceed, I have one question:
Will the genetic enhancements produce an individual devoid of negative emotions, or will the enhancements give the individual the capacity to control the chemicals that affect emotions?
Debate Round No. 1


Before we begin, let me respond to Con’s excellent opening question: either answer suffices for this debate. That said, I argue for a genetic recalibration of our hedonic treadmill that massively enriches hedonic tone while preserving functional analogues of pain, depression, and guilt, not as we know them today but as gradients of happiness. I imagine a future of genetic enhancements in which the floor of comparative ill-being would be higher than our absolute ceiling of well-being today.

As such, we do away with suffering and psychological pain, but preserve our preference architecture, the ability to prefer one thing as better than another. The key is preserving gradients of happiness instead of imposing permanent maximum bliss. Thus, because some things will make you happier than others, value is inherently preserved as a possible ethical category.


"Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence."

"It is not God's will merely that we should be happy, but that we should make ourselves happy."
Immanuel Kant

"The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation."
Jeremy Bentham

Happiness has been fundamental to human existence throughout history. I believe it occupies a unique status among the different possible genetic enhancements: where other enhancements are instrumentally good, enriching emotional well-being is the only enhancement that is intrinsically good.

To open the debate, I make two arguments. First, I argue that responsible parents would choose to genetically predispose their children to a happier life. Then, I close with a look at different ethical systems and how genetically enhancing happiness fits as a moral category within them.

Responsible Parenting: Genetic Roulette vs. Designer Babies

What kind of person, if offered the choice, would deliberately pass on genes for haemophilia, sickle-cell anaemia or muscular dystrophy to their children? The answer to that question is the key to any debate about the ethics of genetic modification.

When the requisite biotechnolgoy becomes available, choosing the genetic make-up of your child – as opposed to throwing the genetic dice and hoping they roll the right way – will become the moral responsibility of parenthood. Parents will have the option of using preimplantation diagnosis and germline gene therapy to ensure that potentially harmful genes like the recessive cystic fibrosis allele aren’t passed on to their children.

What about genes which contribute to psychological pain and suffering? For example, people who inherit two copies of a “short” version of the chromosome 17 serotonin transporter gene, 5-HTTLPR, have an 80% chance of becoming clinically depressed if they experience three or more negative life-events in five years. By contrast, genetically resilient people who inherit the “long” version have only a 30% chance of developing mental illness in similar circumstances. [1]

If offered the choice via preimplantation diagnosis, would you opt for the long serotonin transporter gene variant for your future child? Or would you decline to choose, putting your faith in Mother Nature? I assume that Con will at least grant my case this much: most parents would prefer, on balance, that their children are temperamentally happy rather than miserable.

It seems almost obvious, then, that responsible parents would choose to avoid alleles and allelic combinations associated with depression. That is the ethically responsible choice. Ignoring the availability of biotechnologies that can make your child’s life better, and choosing pure sexual reproduction instead, is the moral equivalent of playing Russian roulette. It effectively turns parenting into gambling.

That's the answer I offer to the question I began this section with: what kind of person would pass on harmful genes to their child? A gambler.

Ethical systems supporting genetic enhancement

a. Utilitarianism

See Bentham’s quote above: we are basically talking about Bentham with biotechnology. The moral urgency of genetic enhancements that abolish suffering and enrich emotional well-being follows logically from defining morality as the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

b. Deontological ethics

In contrast to utilitarianism, deontological ethics defines moral action by its adherence to a principle or rule. Kant’s moral constructivism formulated by his categorical imperative is a classic example. The idea is that the means do not justify the ends. Is genetic enhancement inherently unethical? Plug it into Kant's categorial imperative, or any other formulation of deontological ethics. As far as I can tell, there is no rule of moral action that genetic enhancement of emotional well-being somehow breaks. I conclude genetic enhancement of an intrinsic good (happiness) is ethically justified on deontological grounds.

c. Buddhism

Buddhists, uniquely among the world’s religions, focus on relieving suffering via Nirvana, the extinction of desire. True, a Buddhist may think the Noble Eightfold Path is a superior path to Nirvana than genetic modification, but in principle, a Buddhist ethics would support biotechnology if it worked.

d. Islamic and Judeo-Christian ethics

The Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions claim that God is infinitely compassionate and merciful. So that, if mere mortals can enrich the well-being of all life, it seems obvious that God would permit such actions. In fact, it seems blasphemous to claim that God would limit the scope of His benevolence by denying us the right to make ourselves happy. For support, see Kant’s quote above.

e. Ethical pluralism or ethical pragmatism

The obvious point here is that no serious ethical pluralist or pragmatist would deny genetic enhancement that enriches emotional well-being on ethical grounds. Neither the means nor the ends would prove any problem. That said, we can still ask: why would an ethical pluralist or pragmatist take this project seriously? For many reasons. For example: the ethical pluralist/pragmatist would reason that inflicting suffering on others, by withholding a medical technology that can make suffering optional, is immoral. A simple matter of pragmatism.

Another point: an ethical pluralist/pragmatist would look at objective descriptions of reality, and notice that 1 million people commit suicide each year, and 20 million suicides are attempted. Furthermore, they'd notice that mental health disorders (such as depression) are associated with 90% of those cases of suicide. [2] Thus, genetic modification that abolishes suffering and depression would solve the problem of suicide. Again, ethical pragmatism at its best.

f. Alleged character-building function of suffering?

Nietzsche famously said, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” But I think Nietzsche was misguided. All things equal, enriching emotional well-being strengthens motivation and makes us stronger psychologically. By contrast, prolonged negative emotions and low mood leads to learned helplessness and behavioral despair.

g. Value nihilism and ethical skepticism

What about the subjectivist or ethical skeptic who says all values are simply matters of opinion? In denying objective ethical value in the first place, the ethical system is practically irrelevant to the debate. But for the sake of argument, let's imagine the skeptic is in intense psychological pain. Regardless of one's ethical values, pain will intrinsically motivate that person to seek relief and emotional well-being. In doing so, the ethical skeptic thus acknowledges that it is wrong for himself to be in agony. We can extend this personal subjective experience, and argue allowing psychological pain is wrong for anyone, anywhere. Even the ethical skeptic would admit this much, and thus, even the ethical skeptic ascribes value to happiness.



I am glad that my first experience in this site is against such a thorough opponent. I hope to be a worthy debater.

Your premise, as I understand, is to genetically transform human’s negative emotions such as guilt, pain and depression into different gradients of happiness.

To set the foundation for this debate, it would be fair if we define happiness as

Enjoying, showing, or marked by pleasure, satisfaction, or joy.

I intend to prove that it is unethical to replace human’s negative emotions with various degrees of pleasure, satisfaction or joy.

Reply to my opponent’s introduction

I appreciate the philosophical quotes made by my opponent; however, because they were made under the present circumstances of happiness not being a guaranteed fact of life, but something that has to be pursued, they actually constitute arguments in my favor.

His first quote by Aristotle, makes my point, because one only considers an “aim and end” something that is not already under our power. So, according to Aristotle, genetic enhancement to guarantee happiness would take from humans such “aim and end”.

His second quote by Kant suggests that we should make ourselves happy, but with enhancement we would not be making ourselves happy but made happy by others, since before our birth.

The third quote offers a glimpse of the void that would occur when the happiness of the greatest number is achieved, not by morals and legislation, but by genetic enhancement. Happiness would not require morals or fair legislation.

Responsible Parenting:

Here my opponent brings as a debating point, genetic enhancement against hereditary congenital diseases. Such argument was not part of the original premise. The original premise did not include the genetic cure or prevention of diseases. That, in itself, is subject of a different debate.

Because the genetic correction of conditions was not originally stated, this debate is about the genetic enhancement of average humans to replace negative emotions with degrees of happiness.

Considering that parents are not experts in psychology, psychiatry, neurology, and genetics, I would totally take the parents out of an ethical equation. Ethics should only be assessed by those with full direct technical knowledge of the subject, that is, genetic enhancement. Those who would perform, or authorize such techniques without full knowledge of science and consequences are indeed the gamblers.

Ethical systems that support enhancement

Considering that most religions and philosophies are based on current and average human emotional traits, they should be ruled out as a measure of the ethics of enhancement. You cannot apply old premises to a completely new human biology, a new human biology different from the biology that was the result of thousands of years of evolution (or God’s design if you are a creationist).

So what ethics can be applied to settle this debate? Pragmatism. As I stated in my acceptance statement, the ethics that should apply in this case are the basic pragmatic medical ethics: Do not do harm.

Is Genetically Enhanced Happiness Harmful?

To avoid undue speculation, I will assume that all the kinks in the genetic enhancement procedure have been ironed out and that no malignant physical side effects are present. The result of a genetic happiness enhancement is a baby that can only experience various degrees of happiness, and as such will grow up into adulthood.

Is this harmful or helpful?

Evolution produced pain and discomfort to direct humans to avoid or correct harmful situations. Absence of pleasure is not enough a motivator to avoid drinking scalding hot coffee before rushing to work in the morning, or to wear 10 pounds of unflattering garments in wintertime. Burning and freezing are motivators, they are negative sensations. They are necessary.

Evolution likewise provided humans with negative emotions to direct them to avoid or correct situations, or to adapt to life in society. Those emotions also cause involuntary gestures and reactions that direct others towards certain behaviors. Your premise advocates depriving humans of such survival tools.

I will give a few examples of the benefit of negative emotions:

Fear is a basic and necessary emotion, because it triggers physical fight or flight responses needed for our survival. Pleasure, satisfaction or joy instead of fear is not a suitable response to a threat.

Anger protects against exploitation. Anger causes involuntary reactions that are interpreted by the other party and is intended to cause a change of behavior. Pleasure, satisfaction or joy will not produce in self or others, a change of exploitative behavior.

Guilt motivates to fulfill obligations to self and to others.

Pain, can trigger reactions, like tears, that elicit compassion from others in times of need.

I could keep going but there is ample
literature on the matter.


Depriving average humans of the array of negative emotional tools that are a result of evolution is harmful, therefore, it is unethical.

EVOLUTIONARY EXPLANATIONS OF EMOTIONS, Randolph M. Nesse, The University of Michigan

The Origin of Emotions, Mark Devon.

Debate Round No. 2


Let me begin by rejecting Con's definition of happiness because it limits it to today's standards. A genetically enriched emotional palette may assume textures conceptually unimaginable to us. I will go through Con's response to my case first, and close with my response to Con's case.


Aristotle: increasing happiness does not take away from the meaning and purpose of life. Con assumes an incoherent concept of maximum possible happiness, which becomes meaningless after it is attained.

Kant: Con's distinction between "ourselves" and "others" is flawed, because "ourselves" implies collective society, not individuals against individuals.

Bentham: Con's effort to misinterpret this quote is one of the most incoherent attempts to twist meaning I've ever seen. The quote states that happiness is the foundation of morals. Con responds by interpreting the quote to mean "happiness would not require morals." Con has completely misinterpreted the point of the quote, which is that morality is itself determined by the greatest quantity of happiness.

Responsible Parenting

According to Con, because "this debate is about the genetic enhancement of average humans to replace negative emotions with degrees of happiness," my entire argument about parenting is irrelevant. Such quick dismissals are usually a sign of misunderstanding or misrepresentation. In this case, I think Con understands the argument and attempts to downplay its obvious strength via quick dismissal.

This is what I was arguing: that responsible parenting means choosing the best possible life for your child. This is the same argument that Julian Savulescu makes, and that's important because Savulescu is a major proponent of ethical pragmatism, the same ethical framework that Con herself chooses. Savulescu is the director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and argues for "procreative beneficence," which is the idea that parents are ethically obligated to choose the best possible life they can for their children. That is the argument I made, and I agree with it. Con did not respond to it, and instead drops it entirely.

I went even further, and argued that the ethical consequences of parents not choosing the best life for their children is to equate parenting with gambling. In my opinion, that is an unacceptable ethical consequence. Con does not respond to that argument either, implying that Con thinks it is ethical for parents to gamble with their children's lives.

Ethical systems that support enhancement

Con completely drops my arguments mobilizing various ethical systems in support of genetically enhancing our degrees of happiness. Con argues that these ethical systems cannot apply to a "completely new human biology" because it would be "different from the biology that was the result of thousands of years of evolution." Why not? Why should the medical ethic -- "do not do harm" -- be applied, but these carefully worked out ethical systems be completely abandoned?

What Con does in this argument is dangerously facile and simplistic: Con implicitly and selectively equates natural human biology (as the process of evolution) with the morally good in all these ethical systems. Of course, Con completely ignores the fact that the morally good in these ethical systems has nothing to do with nature, human biology, or the process of evolution. I will help Con out here: Plato's concept of justice in the Republic is an example of an ethical system predicated on equating the good with what is natural. But the systems I offered in support of genetic enhancement are not dependent in any way on nature or human biology.

I ask Con and our readers give it some thought. Utilitarianism is an objective standard (greatest quantity of happiness) that holds regardless of changes in human biology. Kant's categorical imperative, as a moral system based on practical reason, is objective and independent of human biology. The Buddhist imperative to end suffering applies to all sentient beings and holds regardless of human biology. The divine command of the Islamic and Judeo-Christian God, again, is independent of how things are, and moreover, the benevolence of such a God would support our choice to seek happiness. In each of these cases, it is important to distinguish descriptive ethics (the ways things are) to normative ethics (the way things should be): these are normative ethical systems.

Finally, Con agrees with ethical pragmatism, yet Con drops my argument that ethical pragmatism supports genetic enhancement to end suffering. Con should revisit that argument, where I argued it would be pragmatic to end suffering because it would solve the problem of suicide. I look forward to Con's responses on these ethical systems in the next round.

Con's Case: Is Genetically Enhanced Happiness Harmful?

I will try to keep this brief, as Con only offers a single argument in support of her position. This is what it boils down to: depriving humans of negative emotions is harmful, and causing harm is unethical. Con's reasoning goes something like this, because human evolution originally selected for negative emotions as a way to avoid harm, therefore selecting against negative emotions will cause harm.

I counter: if human evolution selected for negative emotions at a time when they were necessary, does it not make sense that human evolution will select against negative emotions when they are no longer necessary?

The obvious problem with Con's position is that it conflates descriptive ethics with normative ethics. Con's argument also makes use of the following incorrect assumptions and faulty logic: 1) the assumption that humans cannot continue evolving; 2) circular reasoning by arguing we should not continue human evolution because human evolution is over; 3) the assumption that selecting against a trait automatically produces the effect it was originally chosen in response to.

My extended responses:

1) With the advent of genetic modification, human evolution is about to accelerate. Artificial selection will replace natural selection, producing a different kind of selection pressure that will favor a different set of adaptations than traits that were genetically adaptive in the world of natural selection.

2) Arguing that it is unethical to continue human evolution because human evolution is over is a circular argument. I argue that human evolution is not over, and the very possibility of genetic enhancement proves that it is not over. Thus, we can discredit Con's circular argument as fallacious.

3) It does not follow that, because negative emotions were selected to avoid harm, not having negative emotions will cause harm. As Con herself notes, because human biology after genetic enhancements will differ from current human biology, any comparison of this kind of misguided. Con's logic works against her.

Another point: although negative emotion has been adaptive in our evolutionary past, there is no reason to suppose negative emotion is the ONLY way a complex adaptive system can avoid, and respond to, harm. In fact, by preserving our preference architecture, recalibrating the hedonic treadmill will facilitate critical discernment, rational decision-making, and motivated behavior.

Truth is, our psychologically super-fit descendants will not need negative emotions as coping-mechanisms. Happy people generally love life, and their resourcefulness should make them far better equipped to deal with life's practical inconveniences.

Also, Con underestimates the harm caused by depression. I've already listed suicide, but other harms follow as well. For example, depressed people often fall into a lethargic stupor because they realize, no matter how much effort they put into life, they're still depressed. Besides suffering, this causes learned helplessness and an inability to "get out of bed."

What reason do we have to suppose the harms caused by happiness outweigh the harms caused by suffering? Hint: Con provides none because there is none.


To start, the instigator rejects my definition of happiness, but does not provide his own definition. In lieu of that, he uses the expression “unimaginable emotional textures”. Since the debate requires for us to be able to at least conceptualize what we are arguing about, I will again try to define my opponent’s version of enhanced happiness as: “unimaginable positive emotion”. I urge him to present a different definition if he does not agree.


My opponent's quotes do not support his point, because our current means of reaching a state of happiness, involve, among other things, controlling or correcting situations that produce unhappiness. Since the individual, society and the environment constantly produce situations that need to be corrected or controlled, happiness is elusive. That is why Aristotle and Kant portray happiness as a goal, not as a permanent state.

Concerning Bentham, he does not only imply that the greatest quantity of happiness is needed, but that it should be applicable to the greatest number of people. If the greatest number of people will be happy, not from social and moral conditions leading to happiness, but from genetic programming, it takes away, from lawmakers and society, the accountability of acting morally and fairly to prevent unhappiness and suffering. So the absence of negative feelings would result in the deterioration of morals and fairness.

Responsible Parenting

The reason I limit this debate to enhancing emotions on average humans is because that was the original premise of the debate. I understand that genetic enhancement can be used to alleviate illnesses, such as clinical depression, but again, that is the subject of a different debate. In this case we are discussing the ethics of the application of a biomedical technique on a normal and healthy individual, for non-therapeutic reasons.

My opponent claims that I dismissed his argument about gambling. Actually I did not, I specifically addressed it. He claims that the removal of negative emotions is not harmful. I debate for the con. That is the core of the ethics of this debate. In the case of parenting, permanently depriving a human of the capacity to experience negative emotions, which are survival tools, over the possible correction of a condition that only has a small probability of occurring, is gambling. In gambling, your chances of losing are greater than the chances of winning. The instigator’s premise is akin to parents requesting a permanent increase of a child’s blood clotting capacity, because there are people who are born with haemophilia.

Ethical systems

My opponent has presented as arguments the tenants of Judeo/Christian/Islamic religions that believe in hell as punishment for sins, or that consider suffering a result of free will. So those religions do not favor his argument, but mine. Both Buddhism and Hinduism invest Nirvana with connotations, not of happiness, but lack of attachments, disinterest. So those are not supporting his arguments either.

The ethical systems that the instigator presented are based on happiness as we know it, as the result of actions to promote positive feelings or to avoid negative feelings, and not of a permanent status of “unimaginable positive emotions”. Since my opponent has placed most of this argument outside the sphere of our imagination, we have to limit ourselves to the simplest ethical principle, to do no harm.

My opponent dismisses the connection between human biology an ethical systems. I disagree. Current human biology is a result of natural evolution. It produces emotions (brain chemistry), linking actions and behaviors with emotions. Most ethical systems deal with values related to human conduct. This is a series of connected links: values, conduct, biology, emotion. By removing negative emotions you have removed half of the emotional link in the ethics chain.

Is Genetically Enhanced Happiness Harmful?

To restate the parameters of this debate, they do not include a genetic increase of intelligence, a reduction of base instincts, or an increase in empathy. The instigator has reaffirmed that preference architecture will remain as is. He is just debating for an enhancement of happiness. I argue that lack of negative emotions will remove adaptive traits needed for life in society.

My opponent claims that I underestimate the harm caused by clinical depression. I have not. I just claim that therapeutic use of genetic modification is not part of this debate. Genetic enhancement of happiness in normal individuals is superfluous, because normal individuals have natural mechanisms to increase happiness (fight depression) such as exercise, good nutrition, exposure to sunlight, and altruism.

The instigator asks what harm is caused by happiness, when that is not the issue. Varied degrees of happiness are nothing new, absence of negative emotion is. He also contends that happiness enhanced humans will use their love and resourcefulness to deal with practical inconveniences. Again, this debate is about enhancing happiness, not about increasing intelligence (resourcefulness) or love (preference architecture), so he is advancing an unsupported conclusion.

The instigator argues that human evolution selected for negative emotions, at a time when they were necessary, and that human evolution will select against negative emotions when they are no longer necessary. While I agree with this theoretical premise, there is nothing in his argument that supports the fact that negative emotions will no longer be necessary. They are a response to both human and non-human threats, events and social situations, which will remain mostly unchanged.

My opponent claims that I believe that humans cannot continue evolving. That is false. I believe that we can make changes that could be considered man-made evolution; however, natural selection will still be a reality. Natural selection will determine if our artificial evolutionary steps will be successful or not.

The instigator argues that artificial selection will replace natural selection. I argue that artificial selection will not be sustainable unless it follows (in an accelerated manner if you will) the exact same path as natural selection. The reason is because, in this debate, we are not considering a gross modification of the environment, or non-happiness-related aspects of human nature. Therefore modifying emotional biology when the rest of the environment and human psyche stays the same equates to permanently depriving humans of adaptive traits. That is harmful.

The instigator advances that recalibrating the hedonic treadmill will facilitate critical discernment, and rational decision making. I disagree. Neuroscientist Robert Burton, in his book “On Being Certain” explains “certainty” as positive feelings can lead to beliefs that are not based on reason. In other words, positive feelings can hamper critical discernment.

My opponent advocates replacing the guilt of abandoning a child, the fear of facing a risk, the anger produced by oppression, with various degrees of unimaginable positive feelings. Such positive feelings will not motivate the person to avoid risks, to avoid abandoning a child, to fight oppression. Negative feelings do. Sometimes negative feelings are required to survive, to move forward, and act morally. That is why they were embedded in humans as part of the evolutionary process.

In conclusion, replacing negative feelings with unimaginable positive feelings does not outweigh the harm of permanently depriving normal individuals of an adaptive mechanism. That is why I say that genetically enhancing happiness is unethical.

Debate Round No. 3


Thank you, Anayansi, for this debate.


Con states: "Aristotle and Kant portray happiness as a goal, not as a permanent state." I am not talking about a permanent state. I've stressed repeatedly that we are talking about degrees of happiness: some things make you happier than others.

As for Bentham, why limit the production of happiness to social conditions? Bentham surely urges genetic programming as an end of utilitarian ethics. The "absence of negative feelings" would not "result in the deterioration of morals" precisely because moral action is action that generates greater happiness. Hence, genetically enhancing well-being is a moral action.

Responsible Parenting

The debate is about enhancing "emotional well-being." The enhancements will result in the treatment of depression by default, and that is a GOOD thing. Not sure why Con insists depression is the topic of a different debate, if the topic of this debate is "emotional well-being." Almost every psychiatric disorder is a component of emotional life, and all are subjects of this debate.

Last Round, I wrote: "parents are ethically obligated to choose the best possible life they can for their children." Con disregards my argument. We can assume, then, that Con grants us that parents must choose the best life for their children.

Here's the problem. If ending suffering is a bad thing, parents should make sure their children suffer. If parents make sure their children suffer, parents run the risk of depressed, emotionally ill, even suicidal children. Their children may even be unemployable because of emotional problems. We can conclude, then, that parents who do this are not choosing the best possible life for their children if they have the option of preventing their children from having emotional problems.

Con's in a no-win situation here: if Con insists that parents should let their children suffer, parents will act unethically. But if Con agrees that it is unethical, and that parents should do something, Con concedes my argument, and with it, the debate.

Ethical systems

Con completely drops my arguments for Utilitarianism and Kant's categorical imperative.

As for Judeo-Christian ethics, "hell as punishment for sins" does not imply that God would not allow genetic enhancements. Con's conclusions do not flow from her premises.

Buddhist ethics is about ending suffering. Con thinks "lack of attachments" means emotional well-being is unethical, but that makes no sense: for Buddhists, lack of attachment implies emotional well-being, as the end of suffering. Hence, nothing Con argues discredits my argument that genetically enhancing emotional well-being is supported by the Buddhist imperative to end suffering.

On the connection between human biology and ethical systems: Con tries to blur the line between biology and ethical systems, which is basically blurring the line between descriptive ethics (nature, the way things are) and normative ethics (how things ought to be). The two are philosophically distinct, yet Con continues to blur the two.

Con states: "By removing negative emotions you have removed half of the emotional link in the ethics chain." In Round 2, I explained that genetic enhancements would preserve degrees of well-being and preserve our preference architecture. I then explained that this would also preserve functional analogues of negative emotions. This means that there will be positive emotions that function the same way as pain, guilt, and other negative emotions. Con accepted this in Round 2, never even contesting it. So why, then, does Con insist that removing negative emotions removes the "emotional link in the ethics chain," if functional analogues of negative emotions are preserved?

Is Genetically Enhanced Happiness Harmful?

Con claims that "lack of negative emotions will remove adaptive traits needed for life in society." But Con provides no argument to support this claim. Con does not even show that, without negative emotions, we would not survive.

What Con does show is that negative emotions currently have a function in society. But what I argued did not contest that fact. What I argued in Round 2 was that genetic enhancements that enrich emotional well-being would preserve functional analogues of these negative emotions. Con granted me this point. So: what Con had to do was show that these functional analogues would not be sufficient. But Con never even tried to argue this point.

Some other points

Con agreed with the "theoretical premise" that "human evolution will select against negative emotions when they are no longer necessary." Problem is, by agreeing to this premise, Con effectively checkmates herself. This is how:

Con is forced to argue that, because natural mechanisms can increase happiness, we should not use artificial mechanisms to increase happiness. Of course, the obvious response is, why not? What exactly is it about artificial mechanisms that make them immoral? Con provides no answer to this, does not even try to.

In fact, Con later states: "I believe that we can make changes that could be considered man-made evolution." Well, which is it? Con dismisses artificial mechanisms in one breath, and in the next, embraces them. And therein lies the incoherence of Con's position.

If Con accepts artificial selection mechanisms, then Con concedes the debate because Con has accepted that human evolution will do away with negative emotions, and artificial selection provides the selection pressure to remove negative emotions. Hence, contrary to Con's own statements otherwise, Con cannot accept artificial selection.

But if Con does not accept artificial selection, Con has to provide a reason against it. Con was unable to do so, which is why Con was forced, later in Round 3, to accept artificial selection. Con's argument thus not only accepts artificial selection, but implies an inability to deny it on ethical (or any other) grounds. Con effectively concedes the debate on this crucial point.

Functional Analogues

I've already emphasized repeatedly throughout the debate that genetic enhancements preserve functional analogues to fear, guilt, anger, pain, and other negative emotions. Con accepted this in Round 2, yet implicitly disregards the fact throughout the rest of the debate by continuing to argue that without negative emotions, we'd have no emotions to play the same role that they once did.

On the contrary: with genetically enhanced well-being, people will feel positive emotions that FUNCTION the same as negative emotions, but without the nasty feeling attached to negative emotions.

Instead, Con keeps insisting (by ignoring my arguments) that ending suffering would deprive individuals of an adaptive mechanism. But as I've argued, what genetically enhanced well-being would do is replace an outdated adaptive mechanism with a superior adaptive mechanism. That is how human evolution works. To argue against this point will always and necessarily traffic in circular reasoning. Why? Because the argument says, we should not choose a new adaptive mechanism because we have an old adaptive mechanism that does the same thing. This is saying the same thing, which I pointed out in Round 3, as this: we should not allow human evolution to continue because human evolution is over. The circular fallacy is self-evident. Con disregards my point in Round 3, and continues to push it by rhetorically presenting it as different.


Con only made one argument. That denying humans negative emotions would cause harm. Yet as I have shown, the argument relies on circular reasoning, and also completely disregards the form of genetic enhancements that Con and I have been talking about: a recalibration of the hedonic treadmill. The idea is to preserve degrees of happiness, a preference architecture, and functional analogues of negative emotions. The resolution is affirmed.

I'd like to remind Con that the last Round is for summation, and not for making new arguments, because I'd be unable to respond. Thanks.


Conclusion: Back to basics

My opponent presented, as background for the debate, that genetically pre-programmed emotional well-being, preserving functional analogues of pain, depression, and guilt, as gradients of happiness, is ethical. He did not explain the mechanics of such functionality. He used the expression “textures (of happiness) conceptually unimaginable” which creates a fissure in the conceptual logic of the debate.

He did not mention, in the background, that the debate was about genetic enhancement to eliminate diseases. This would make it a totally different debate because the ethics of the application of a procedure for healing, is different than the ethics of application of an unnecessary biomedical procedure on a healthy human. So I reject any therapeutic argument, on principle.

My opponent presented as support for his argument: quotes, responsible parenting/gambling, religious and ethical systems. I stated that what he presented does not support his position, but mine. To avoid repetition, I will leave this issue to the reader. Not before noting, however, that while we disagreed about several of the above issues, we could both agree that the ethical principle of doing no harm is applicable.

Is Genetically Enhanced Happiness Harmful?

Yes it is harmful, thus unethical, because it deprives humans of adaptive traits needed for survival.

My opponent admits that negative emotions currently have a function in society. He claims that I have not argued that functional analogues of negative emotions, interpreted as degrees of happiness are insufficient. I did make such argument, in Round 2, complemented in Round 3 with examples of three basic negative emotions: fear, anger, guilt and pain, and how their replacement with degrees of happiness is not enough to ensure survival. I drew a parallel with negative physical feelings, and provided a very interesting source about the Evolutionary Explanation for Emotions by Nesse.

My opponent claims that my agreeing with the theoretical premise that when negative emotions are no longer necessary, they will be selected against, implies self-defeat. This is false. I specifically pointed out that I do not believe that there will be a day when negative emotions are no longer necessary. They are a survival trait resulting from evolution, same as physical pain.

I have not argued against artificial mechanism to increase happiness. They exist already in the form of various chemicals, and procedures. What I argue against is the ethics of permanently depriving a healthy human of his adaptive tools.

I have not accepted that sustainable human evolution will do away with negative emotions. The reason is because any sustainable selection process, natural or artificial, still has to contend with the environment and the behavior of humans, who will have the same preference architecture, and the same intelligence. In other words genetically enhanced happiness will not be sustainable. My opponent has not presented any evidence otherwise.

My opponent argued from the start for replacing negative emotions with degrees of happiness.He argues that, all else being the same, positive emotions in genetically altered individuals will function the same as negative emotions, without the nasty feeling attached to negative emotions.What he fails to correlate is that negative emotions are caused by real nasty events, like loss, disease, oppression, and abandonment. Negative emotions are only the symptoms of whatever causes suffering. The real nasty events will continue happening whether the individual is enhanced or not.

Emotions like fear of contracting a disease, pain of loss, and depression of abandonment, are produced by real events that have negative consequences for human survival.. Because these emotions are unpleasant, humans learn to try to avoid those events, and increase their chance of survival as species.

What my opponent proposes is to divorce nasty emotions from nasty events, and wants to make us believe that positive emotions will function as equally effective motivators for us to avoid nasty events, just because he says so. I wish he would have presented, for our consideration, one conclusive overview of this functionality, apart from the use of the word “unimaginable” to define the textures of feelings he advocates. My opponent did not prove his core argument, while I offered a logical chain to prove mine.

I tried to be as brief as possible to spare the non-genetically-enhanced reader from undue suffering. I was afraid that, if I made this too long, the reader’s naturally evolved adaptive mechanism will prompt him or her to shut off the computer before voting, and seek instead pleasant activities to preserve the species.
Debate Round No. 4
33 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by InVinoVeritas 4 years ago
The whole "positive with the same function" concept should have been elaborated on further, I'd say. Making emotions like guilt and shame into positive functions is an extremely abstract and hypothetical proposal. And by conceding that these existing emotions do play a pragmatic role, you are not really fortifying your claim.
Posted by Anayansi 4 years ago
I think that the interest of curing depression through genetics is a very noble one. Maybe if instead of eliminating negative emotions completely, there could be a genetic ceiling to them. (???) Regarding negative feelings in general, I guess that the fact that I am older makes me view negative emotions under a different light, each one has been the price I have paid for what (little) wisdom I have.
Posted by FourTrouble 4 years ago
I see what you are saying, it was too "subtle" for me, but that is probably my failure, not yours. It was a good debate, I honestly was not expecting such a legit debater to take it.
Posted by Anayansi 4 years ago
Again, I disagree:
Since the get go, round 1, I tried to focus on the fact of whether they worked or not. That is why I introduced medical ethics. "Do no harm". That laid the field to show that introducing something that does not work in a human is harmful, thus unethical.
In round 2, I gave specific examples of the function of basic negative emotions and how positive emotions would not work instead of the negative ones. You ignored those examples, and took the evolutionary route instead.
On round 3, I posted:
"there is nothing in his argument that supports the fact that negative emotions will no longer be necessary. They are a response ..."
This is a cue, I think, to reply by explaining how the absence of negative emotions can be functionally replaced by positive emotions, making negative emotions unnecessary.
Again, this was my first debate and if I failed to set my foot down and demand, in clearer terms, an explanation of the functionality, I wonder if I was too subtle(?)
It was a great debate anyways, FourTrouble!
Posted by FourTrouble 4 years ago
The issue of whether it worked or not was not brought up until the last round. At the point, I was unable to address it. That's why larz took off conduct for you. That said, it may have been my mistake to not introduce arguments for why it works earlier. I'm not sure.
Posted by Anayansi 4 years ago
I respectfully disagree with my opponent. Since round one when I asked about the biological mechanism to achieve the enhancement he had the opportunity of presenting how the mechanics of functional analogues work. He presented a black box instead (unimaginable), and focused too much on ethical systems when the issue was basically does the idea work, or not, on average individuals?
Posted by FourTrouble 4 years ago
Reading over this debate, it's hard to believable that people are voting against me. Con does not challenge the "mechanics of functional analogues" until the final round, after which I can't respond. That part should thus be ignored.
Posted by FourTrouble 4 years ago
@InVinoVeritas, I don't understand, how is something negative with a useful function better than something positive with the same function?
Posted by FourTrouble 4 years ago
@larz, thanks for your insight. It helps me realize how difficult it is to judge what will have an impact on readers and what won't, and now I know to keep that in mind more when making my arguments.
Posted by FourTrouble 4 years ago
I made the voting period 6 months, so don't worry too much, we have time for people to read and vote.
4 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Vote Placed by 16kadams 4 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: counter iPwnuNow
Vote Placed by InVinoVeritas 4 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: The concept of "functional analogues to fear, guilt, anger, pain, and other negative emotions" was too abstract and vague, even in the context of this very hypothetical argument. At the same time, Pro was essentially admitting that these emotions are useful and require analogous emotions even under his proposed system.
Vote Placed by iPwnuNOW 4 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: No words needed
Vote Placed by larztheloser 4 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: I'll post my RFD in the comments.