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Hedonistic Imperative Slowly Moves into the Mainstream December 5, 2010

Posted by Metabiological in Ethics, Transhumanism.
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David Pearce’s Hedonistic Imperative has arguably been one of the most influential ideas within transhumanism.  Even those who don’t support it, and there are many that don’t, can’t help but respect both the scale of the vision and the intellectual vigor behind it.  For myself reading it the first time was an eyeopener.  As a young atheist I had been unimpressed by the ethical stance of the various humanist organizations which seemed to go about the business of ethics without any definition of what constitutes “good” or “evil”.  HI not only provided an ethical framework (negative utilitarianism) that was well-grounded in philosophy but a vision of a better world that rivaled and even surpassed the dreams of paradise espoused by the world’s religions.

As such I am always happy to see these views break into the mainstream.  Jeff McMahan’s article in the New York Times “The Meat Eaters” was groundbreaking in this regard and now we have Oscar Horta’s publication.  Horta’s work, which deals with the problems associated with species reintroduction, strikes particularly close to home for me as an ecologist in training.  It is a complex problem and one that according to Horta we are not going about in the right way.

His article asks the question of whether or not it is moral to reintroduce carnivores, in this case wolves, into their former range.  The ecological argument is that top predators help to stabilize the ecosystem and prevent major changes in community structure that can occur through over-grazing.  This is not a controversial statement in ecology with the spread of sea otters into former ranges along the California coast arguably being the best example of it.  Horta attacks not only the ecological argument of reintroduction but also questions the moral hypocrisy implicit in such a policy.

I won’t go in depth into his arguments since you can and should read it for yourself but I will tell you that some of his arguments are very impressive, particularly those against the deep ecology crowd.  The take home from this is that while he calls into question our current interventions he does not call for them to stop but only to be modified.  Nature is not good simply because it is nature and intervention is not bad for simply being an intervention.  When used properly, such as in the reduction of suffering in the natural world, it can be one of our most powerful tools.

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