Limits to human enhancement: nature, disease, therapy or betterment?

New technologies facilitate the enhancement of a wide range of human dispositions, capacities, or abilities. While it is argued that we need to set limits to human enhancement, it is unclear where we should find resources to set such limits. Traditional routes for setting limits, such as referring to nature, the therapy-enhancement distinction, and the health-disease distinction, turn out to have some shortcomings. However, upon closer scrutiny the concept of enhancement is based on vague conceptions of what is to be enhanced. Explaining why it is better to become older, stronger, and more intelligent presupposes a clear conception of goodness, which is seldom provided. In particular, the qualitative better is frequently confused with the quantitative more. We may therefore not need “external” measures for setting its limits – they are available in the concept of enhancement itself. While there may be shortcomings in traditional sources of limit setting to human enhancement, such as nature, therapy, and disease, such approaches may not be necessary. The specification-of-betterment problem inherent in the conception of human enhancement itself provides means to restrict its unwarranted proliferation. We only need to demand clear, sustainable, obtainable goals for enhancement that are based on evidence, and not on lofty speculations, hypes, analogies, or weak associations. Human enhancements that specify what will become better, and provide adequate evidence, are good and should be pursued. Others should not be accepted.

About Robert Zinn

Robert Zinn, M.D., Ph.D. is a medical doctor, physician, and web entrepreneur, who, for over 15 years was employed by academic and research institutions and focused his clinical practices on very specialized patient populations, such as those with rare genetic diseases or rare cancers. He shares his knowledge through his website,

View all posts by Robert Zinn →