Analysis of the Moral Imperative to Engineer Radical Life Extension

As of earlier this month, Russell Blackford is starting in on an analysis of a position I agree with, albeit in my own way: that there is a moral imperative to aid the development of medical technologies that will bring radical life extension to as many people as possible.

I owe an account of why I am slightly sceptical about an argument offered by Aubrey de Grey, who has defended the strong claim that there is a moral imperative to "cure" the process of human aging. (I'll henceforth drop the scare quotes around the word "cure", but I intend to signal that I am well aware of the controversies that surround whether the word is apt in this context.)


By the end of this post, I will still owe a proper account of what doesn't entirely convince me, but I'll have made a start. My main purpose at this stage is to take a first stab at getting the logic of the argument clear. This will help us see where, if anywhere, it might be vulnerable to attack. It may also help us see whether better formulations of the argument possible - perhaps my formulation does not do de Grey justice, or perhaps it is possible for him to do some further shoring up.

It makes for an interesting read, though as you will note, Blackford is intuitively unhappy with the sum of the parts he rebuilds. I will venture a guess as to the source of this unease with Aubrey de Grey's position: no-one likes to be told they are a part of the problem. That's Good Advocacy 101; even in the unlikely event it is absolutely true that everyone who doesn't help out is a part of the problem, you won't make much headway by using this fact as a blunt implement of persuasion.

Another way of looking at this might be the obligation that is taken to be implied by what is now commonly meant by "a moral imperative." It's plain old human nature to dislike to be told by a third party that you are obliged to expend effort. But if you're of a mindset to find truth and guidance in law and philosophy provided by other people, you're going to find yourself obliged - if only by yourself - in all sorts of ways. In that view, and in a world in which tens of millions die each and every year, your understanding of morality could lead you to place yourself as part of the problem for failing to devote 100% of your life to advancing healthy life extension. That is no doubt an uncomfortable position to find oneself in.

The key here is a libertarian one: you don't owe anything to anyone that you haven't contracted and chosen to provide. No philosophy can create an obligation - only choice made of free will can do that. I have decided that I should act in support of healthy life extension research, for reasons both selfish and altruistic. This is my moral imperative, home-crafted and unique. I think that we demonstrate ourselves better people for helping to advance anti-aging research - but this is a choice each person must make for his or herself. Find your own moral imperative: I persuade, you decide.

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