Scruton on Cyborgs:

Roger Scruton takes on an old debate of ours, and looks forward:

The belief that humanity makes moral progress depends upon a wilful ignorance of history. It also depends upon a wilful ignorance of oneself – a refusal to recognise the extent to which selfishness and calculation reside in the heart even of our most generous emotions, awaiting their chance. Those who invest their hopes in the moral improvement of humankind are therefore in a precarious position: at any moment the veil of illusion might be swept away, revealing the bare truth of the human condition. Either they defend themselves against this possibility with artful intellectual ploys, or they give way, in the moment of truth, to a paroxysm of disappointment and misanthropy. Both of these do violence to our nature. The first condemns us to the life of unreason; the second to the life of contempt. Human beings may not be as good as the shallow optimists pretend; but nor are they as bad as the prophets and curmudgeons have painted them.

In order to see human beings as they are, therefore, and to school oneself in the art of loving them, it is necessary to apply a dose of pessimism...
That is the beginning; but what happens when we can change human nature? He appears to be pessimistic about that as well. Yet he is pessimistic in an odd way; this pessimism is required for us to be happy.
The transhumanists believe that we will replace ourselves with immortal cyborgs, who will emerge from the discarded shell of humanity like the blessed souls from the grave in some medieval Last Judgement.
The transhumanists don’t worry about Huxley’s Brave New World: they don’t believe that the old-fashioned virtues and emotions lamented by Huxley have much of a future in any case. The important thing, they tell us, is the promise of increasing power, increasing scope, increasing ability to vanquish the long-term enemies of mankind, such as disease, ageing, incapacity and death....

We are not, and cannot be, the kind of posthuman cyborgs that rejoice in eternal life, if life it is. We are led by love, friendship and desire; by tenderness for young life and reverence for old. We live, or ought to live, by the rule of forgiveness, in a world where hurts are acknowledged and faults confessed to. All our reasoning is predicated upon those basic conditions, and one of the most important uses of pessimism is to warn us against destroying them. The soul-less optimism of the transhumanists reminds us that we should be gloomy, since our happiness depends on it.
Confer with the piece from Mr. Dalyrymple, below. The idea is that redistributing resources cannot make people happy, because happiness comes from the development of internal virtues. It cannot even make them "not poor," as the failure to develop those virtues will strip them of whatever wealth you redistribute to them. What it can do, as in the case of the islanders with the phosphorous, is destroy them: it can undermine the virtues they do have by removing the scarcity that demands and regulates those virtues. Disaster follows.

This would appear to be the same concept, but pointed not at "the poor" but at all humanity. It seems like it might be right, too, on the same terms. Aristotle held that happiness (eudaimonia) was an activity, specifically rational activity in accord with excellence. The concept of "excellence" rubs up against failure: after all, you are judging what is excellent by comparing it with what is not.

This kind of life is perhaps a good example of what would 'justify us in having a child' according to Mr. Singer. What if we could promise that the child would never grow old or weak, nor be hungry, nor suffer pain or danger? Well, wouldn't the child be horribly bored with such an eternal life? Where then is the joy, the eudaimonia that Aristotle spoke of? How does the child excel if there are no challenges?

No matter, you might say; emotions are really "in" the brain, so we will remove the concern that you would be bored and unhappy by simply arranging to stimulate the appropriate pleasure centers. You will be perfectly happy and satisfied, forever.

That, then, would be for Mr. Singer a justification of the child's life. What kind of person would we be, though? What would that do to our moral nature? What would we do with such lives, and such freedom?

I suspect the answer is "nothing." If that is the case, Singer is wrong: the child may as well not have been born at all.

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