Focusing on What Matters Most

1.1 Wresting from nature future human evolution

Biotechnology now makes it possible to wrest from nature future human evolution. This is the most far-reaching development in history since humans branched off from other primates some million years ago. The central challenge confronting humanity now is what ought to be done with this awesome power.

1.2 The prospect of genetic bifurcation of humanity

In the West, there is a recoil from using this gene-editing technology in order to go beyond disease prevention to enhancement and to go beyond treatment of an individual to make genetic modifications heritable. In China, in contrast, this technology is considered to be capable of enhancing the human condition. The initial focus appears to be on enhancing intelligence, which seems to be a long-standing cultural focus (see figure 1.2). If China would focus on genetically improving intelligence, then within 4-5 generations in a century, the genetic divergence would be substantial and perhaps insurmountable. By the end of the century China would be in the position of winning an undeclared world war. Unlike world wars of the past, this one would be inherently irreversible.

1.3 Innate human commonalities are the basis of human nature and conduct

Recent neuroscientific findings have proved Darwin right that humans possess both biological and psychological innate attributes. Thus, there exist innate commonalities of needs and desires that constitute the factual basis for human nature and conduct. As a consequence, ethical systems must be based on universals of human nature. Similarly, legal systems ought to be based on the doctrine of natural law rather than positive law. [66] Empiricism is the basis of the present-day theories of knowledge. The most basic assumption of Empiricism is the denial of the existence of innate sensations and cognitions, concluding that the newborn cannot have knowledge of the world prior to personal experience. We now know that the assumption and conclusion are factually false. These assumptions have contributed to the choice of ethical and legal systems in the West that are relativistic rather than universal. These relativistic systems do not provide common ground to address long-term global issues with differing cultures’ ethical and legal systems, such as making heritable enhancements to the human genome.

1.4 Updating the foundation of knowledge

It is therefore now necessary to acknowledge the scientific findings and update the foundation of knowledge. It will remain necessary to revise ethical and legal systems to make them universal rather than relativistic. These systems will have differences across cultures and countries but must be viewed relative to a common denominator. The ability to make heritable enhancements in the human genome is the most important challenge confronting humanity today. Meeting that challenge, in turn, makes updating the foundation of knowledge, ethics, legal systems, and public policy a matter of priority.

1.5 The philosophic community

It is for the philosophic community to take on the challenge of bringing the foundation of knowledge up-to- date. It is a unique opportunity for philosophy to take a central role in advancing the knowledge enterprise. However, setting aside 300 years of epistemological legacy by accepting the neuroscientific findings that prove correct Darwin’s theory of evolution in regard to biological and psychological attributes will take time. Max Planck noted that acceptance of a new paradigm often involves generational transition. In this case, it is in the public interest to avoid any further delay. In fact, it may prove to be a survival imperative.

The percentage of Caucasian and Asian students in Stuyvesant High School in New york. Adapted from July 20, 2014 article in the New York Post by Dennis Saffran.

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