Enhancement and Narrative Identity

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Can human genetic and mechanical enhancement coexist with narrative identity? Does narrative identity demand human enhancement?
  Caldwell 1 Jeff Caldwell26 March 2010Enhancement and Narrative Identity1. IntroductionIn this paper I will argue that the Narrative Criterion of Personal Identity can allowfor human enhancement without failing to adhere to the constraints of coherency, realityand articulation. This approach will also be able to address challenges to authenticity.What seems to be the accepted view of narrative identity requires that individuals livewithin the bounds of a narrow sense of what one’s narrative could contain. Instead Ipropose that enhancement will allow for those whose narrative is not fully harmoniouswith reality to bring their narrative in line with what they know to be their truly authenticselves. The interpretation of narrative identity as it stands is too strict. If we allow othersto ascribe individual requirements to our narrative, or to limit what our narrative can bebecause of laws against enhancement, our narrative, and hence our identity, is nolonger limited by ourselves but by others. Enhancement as well can allow for theprevention and improvement of a possible incoherent identity. First I will address howenhancement and Narrative Identity, as laid out by Schectman, can strengthen thepositions of each other. This paper will then address the challenges to enhancement of authenticity and humanness.2. Enhancement Defined  Caldwell 2 DeGrazia considers enhancement; “interventions to improve human form or function that do not respond to genuine medical needs”  (DeGrazia 2005 263).DeGrazia’s definition stumbles on the word ‘genuine’. It seems an arbitrary term thatcannot be applied cross-culturally. Something considered a treatment in a developedpart of the world may be considered enhancement in a region with a lower standard of health care.For the purposes of this paper I propose a more intuitive approach to whatenhancement is:Enhancement: Any intervention, medical or mechanical, that takes an unimpededperson beyond what would be the limits of their natural physical andpsychological abilities, including temporal considerations. 1  Thus laser eye surgery is not enhancement if it corrects to an accepted level of twenty-twenty vision. Gene therapy that aims to prevent or cure some genetic defectthat falls outside of the norm is not enhancement. Enhancements that slow or reversethe loss of abilities due to age would be considered enhancement.3. Narrative Identity (NI)We must accept as DeGrazia does that “the srcinal intuition is correct: major changes in capacities or other traits can affect narrative identity” (DeGrazia 230). Thisdoes not mean that those changes are not compatible with the idea of NI. It is my 1 I use the word unimpeded to mean those born without any type of birth defect, or geneticpredisposition to diseases. Temporal consideration is of the fact that we all age and in sodoing are capacities diminish.  Caldwell 3 position that NI and Enhancement can strengthen the case for each other. Tounderstand how this is possible it will be useful to examine the main sections of NI.3.1 Coherence Restraint (CR)Can enhancement adhere to CR of NI? The President’s Council On Bioethics(The Council) does not believe so; They state that “the decision to take anabolicsteroids to enhance athletic performance can be said to be, in one sense of the term, arational choice, it is a choice to alter oneself by submitting oneself to means that areunintelligible to one’s own self understanding” (Council 147). On the contrary CR can demand  enhancement. Consider the example of an aging baseball player who seeshimself as someone who always hits 40 homeruns in a season. When his abilities startto fail him, due to age, enhancement has the potential to realign his abilities with hisnarrative. As opposed to being unintelligible, a small degree of enhancement can helpmaintain a coherent narrative and avoid a crisis of identity.Schechtman herself believes that CR admits of degrees, first the “degree of cohesiveness of his narrative as a whole....second... the more a particular action,experience or characteristic coheres with the rest of a person’s narrative, the greater thedegree to which it is attributable to him” (Schechtman 98). Clearly then for someonesuch as an aging athlete the amount of enhancement needed will increase with age,until the point that his narrative ceases to be coherent, and further enhancement wouldbe unacceptable.  Caldwell 4 3.2 The Articulation Constraint (AC)A further requirement of NI is that a “narrative be capable of local articulation.This means that the narrator should be able to explain why he does what he does,believes what he believes, and feels what he feels” (Schechtman 114).Exposed drug users like Alex Rodriguez are asked questions such as, “Why didyou do it?”, “What made you believe it was ok?” and “Why did you feel you had to?” If their answers seem genuine, fans tend to forgive. But more importantly, they accept  thenarrative and envelope those actions into who they believe that person to be. Theviewer changes their assumptions about whom the person is, the player does notchange his own assumptions.Persons “permit a general set of background assumptions about themselves andtheir lives to guide the unfolding of experience” (Schechtman 116). These assumptionsare what can allow for enhancement. For many, the abilities that they are enhancingare considered required, deserved even, within the scope of what they posit their narrative to be. Most when interviewed can fulfill the AC.An argument could be made that the articulation constraint could licence anyform of enhancement. As long as one can explain why they want Enhancement A theycan have it. This though is not the case. Schechtman states: “When a person is unableto explicate part of her narrative, some set of her actions and experiences areincomprehensible to her and, hence, not properly under her control” (Schechtman 118).An individual asking that a plastic surgeon make them look like Mikhail Gorbachevwould invariably, under questioning, be unable to articulate their story satisfactorily.
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