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The Case Against Cognitive Enhancement: Responding to the Reversal Test

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posted on 2021-11-08, 20:18 authored by Monro, Alice

In this thesis I argue against the use of genetic technologies to enhance human cognitive capacities. More specifically, I respond to Nick Bostrom and Toby Ord's "Reversal Test", which they use to argue in favour of genetic cognitive enhancement. The Reversal Test is a burden of proof challenge designed to diagnose status quo bias in arguments against enhancement. By noting that most of those who oppose raisingintelligence would also oppose lowering intelligence, the Reversal Test puts the onuson opponents of enhancement to explain why both increases and decreases in our cognitive capacity would be worse than the status quo (our current level of intelligence). Bostrom and Ord claim that if no good reasons can be provided, this indicates that the opposition to enhancement is influenced by status quo bias. Since cognitive biases cannot provide a moral reason against enhancement, opposition to genetic cognitive enhancement shown to be affected by status quo bias canaccordingly be discounted. The aim of my thesis, then, is to overcome the Reversal Test' s burden of proof challenge by showing that my reasons for opposing cognitive enhancement are notinfluenced by status quo bias. However, I do not argue that enhanced intelligence could not be beneficial to the individual. Instead, I claim that the probable unequal distribution of enhancements between the best- and worst-off would be likely to cause serious injustices to those who are unable to afford them.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Agar, Nick