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On Eugenics

June 22nd, 2011

An entertaining little blurb by Michael Cook:

I missed the centenary of the death of Francis Galton on January 17. For those of  you who don’t know much about Charles Darwin’s family tree, Galton was his cousin, a prodigy who spoke Latin and Greek at three and invented foreign travel, statistics, fingerprints, weather maps and eugenics when he grew up.

Eugenics has had a bit of bad press in the 20th Century, what with the Nazis and all that. But it is making a comeback. Galton found the study of breeding better humans a fascinating topic. Along with weather maps, he created an ugly map for British women, for instance, whose nadir was in Aberdeen.

Silly? Yes, but eugenics is on the way back. It seems a bit narrow-minded to reduce people to their genes, but scientists are beavering away at research into conservative genes and liberal genes, genes for happiness and genes for shyness, genes for aggression, and genes for religion and so on. A professor at Oxford even argues that parents are morally obliged to create the best children possible. He calls it “procreative beneficence”.

Here’s the article from the above link:

A Not-So-New Eugenics: Harris and Savulescu on Human Enhancement John Harris and Julian Savulescu, leading figures in the “new” eugenics, argue that parents are obligated to enhance their children. But followed to its natural conclusions, this position looks a lot like the old eugenics.

by Robert Sparrow

As Nick Agar noted in the pages of this journal in 2007, there now exists a significant body of work in bioethics that argues in favor of enhancing human beings. Writers including Gregory Stock, Lee Silver, Nick Bostrom, Julian Savulescu, John Harris, Ronald Green, Jonathan Glover, and Agar himself have suggested that there is little reason to fear the scientific application of genetic technologies to human beings, as long as the choice of whether—and how—to use them is left up to individuals. They argue that a “new” or “liberal” eugenics, which would be pluralistic, based on good science, concerned with the welfare of individuals, and would respect the rights of individuals, should be distinguished from the “old” eugenics, which was perfectionist, unscientific, concerned with the health of the “race,” and coercive. According to the advocates of the new eugenics, the horrors associated with the old eugenics should not prevent us from embracing the opportunities offered by recent advances in the biological sciences.

Two of these writers in particular, John Harris and Julian Savulescu, have independently advanced the argument for human enhancement with especial fervor in their recent works. Harris argues that a proper concern for the welfare of future human beings implies that we are morally obligated to pursue enhancements, and Savulescu has argued that we are morally obligated to use genetic (and other) technologies to produce the best children possible—a strong claim indeed!

Keep reading.


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  1. June 22nd, 2011 at 13:44 | #1

    This is why it is so important to affirm that marriages have a right to procreate offspring together from their own genes. No one should feel it is wrong to have offspring with their spouse, it must be affirmed as a legal right to conceive offspring with your spouse.

    That’s the most important law of the Egg and Sperm Civil Union Compromise. The first law, the “Egg and Sperm law” is important too, but it might never be possible to make children any other way than by an egg and sperm anyway, so it is less urgent than affirming that marriages have a right to use their own genes to procreate offspring. And the third law, the recognition of state CU’s that are defined as “marriage minus procreation rights” is entirely unnecessary and only offered to spur on the process to enact the other two laws. It is the other two laws, together, which would end same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

  2. June 23rd, 2011 at 11:19 | #2

    What does it mean that he “invented foreign travel”? What, no one went anywhere before him?

  3. June 23rd, 2011 at 11:39 | #3

    Here is another article on the new eugenics I am not sure if we’ve discussed it here or not: Could Prenatal DNA Testing Open a Pandora’s Box?

    I blogged about it on RedMassGroup.com, which is really a Libertarian Transhumanist blog passing itself off as a Republican/Conservative blog, as the comments on this thread reveal. Not one person there thinks that a married couple has a right to use their own genes to procreate offspring together. They all think that these tests will be good and useful, especially for other people, and they think that if a couple has a high risk of having a deformed baby, then they don’t have a right to go ahead and procreate. Check out the thread: Prenatal DNA testing and protecting marriage rights (the one vote in the poll is mine)

  4. June 24th, 2011 at 09:16 | #4

    @Emma Maybe it’s referring to this, from his wikipedia page:

    In his early years Galton was an enthusiastic traveller, and made a notable solo trip through Eastern Europe to Constantinople, before going up to Cambridge. In 1845 and 1846 he went to Egypt and travelled down the Nile to Khartoum in the Sudan, and from there to Beirut, Damascus and down the Jordan.

    In 1850 he joined the Royal Geographical Society, and over the next two years mounted a long and difficult expedition into then little-known South West Africa (now Namibia). He wrote a successful book on his experience, “Narrative of an Explorer in Tropical South Africa”. He was awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s gold medal in 1853 and the Silver Medal of the French Geographical Society for his pioneering cartographic survey of the region (Bulmer 2003, p. 16). This established his reputation as a geographer and explorer. He proceeded to write the best-selling The Art of Travel, a handbook of practical advice for the Victorian on the move, which went through many editions and is still in print.

    Or, maybe this:

    During this time, Galton wrote a controversial letter to the Times titled ‘Africa for the Chinese’, where he argued that the Chinese, as a race capable of high civilization and (in his opinion) only temporarily stunted by the recent failures of Chinese dynasties, should be encouraged to immigrate to Africa and displace the supposedly inferior aboriginal blacks.

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