[ExI] Morphological freedom

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Fri Feb 26 10:06:58 UTC 2016

On 2016-02-26 09:07, Rafal Smigrodzki wrote:
> I don't think that morphological freedom is an inalienable right, even 
> in a liberal ethical framework. On one hand, wards are persons, yet 
> their rights are legitimately abridged by others. On the other hand, 
> if a person has a right to suicide, then lesser, self-imposed 
> limitations on their mode of being are legitimate as well, which 
> includes the right to limit one's cognition irreversibly, erase some 
> or all memories, or deprive oneself of the desire to modify self. One 
> may even have the right to rescind one's right to modification by 
> joining a legal system which does not recognize it, or by assigning 
> the rights to modify oneself to others.

Note that wards do not lose all their rights; their protector can only 
legitimately impose things on them compatible with the set of rights 
they retain because of their capacities. Morphological freedom is 
generally a complex right requiring full freedom, so the wards might not 
enjoy it if they do not enjoy their freedom right. But the limitation of 
freedom of a ward does not mean freedom is not inalienable (just that 
the expression of freedom may sometimes legitimately be constrained).

The suicide argument is fun. I think it does not follow if one grounds 
MF in autonomy, since the loss of autonomy in death is different from 
the loss of autonomy in self-reduction. It is less clear if this works 
in interest and human nature grounding, but intuitively it seems 
reasonable there too. Rescinding rights or reallocating them is handled 
by the Hohfeldian stuff; leaving aside law (I mainly do ethics in the 
paper) the key thing is the immunity: you cannot permanently rescind a 
moral right even if you give it up temporarily. You give your body 
rights to your doctor, and under most circumstances you can take them 
back at will (the exception is lack of capacity).

> You mention the harm principle, and the fact that by modifying the 
> definition of an illegitimate harm one can achieve arbitrary normative 
> goals. I would tend to see this problem as one of constructing an 
> in-group. Those who have inappropriate notions of what constitutes an 
> illegitimate (i.e. punishable, legally actionable) harm, cannot be 
> members of my in-group. One has to choose his friends well.
Yes, community standards matter. And we do a fair bit of altruistic 
punishment. But I am not convinced in-group norms make for good ethics 
(they might make for good morality), especially if universal ethical 
principles turn out to exist.

> You quote Carrico. His convoluted style is difficult to parse but you 
> provide a benign translation of his views as an extension of social 
> democracy to the question of body modification. I tend to take a much 
> darker view - he wants to keep some of us, makers, as perpetual slaves 
> of others, the takers, all covered with the gobbledygook about 
> non-duressed choice. You can rely on him to endorse slavery while 
> claiming to be a champion of freedom.
Heh. I decided to be annoyingly Swedish and do the most benign reading 
possible. It is the best revenge :-)

> My own position, relevant to my chosen in-group, is that existing 
> ingroup members generally have full ownership rights to their own 
> bodies and minds, unless they voluntarily relinquish them (in a 
> meaning much different from Carrico's "non-duressed choice"), and this 
> entails the right to modify themselves using the resources they have 
> at their disposal. This does not entail a duty on others to provide 
> such resources. New members of the in-group such as children and other 
> wards should be gifted such ownership rights on achieving the age of 
> majority, or be allowed to pay a market price to purchase such rights. 
> The details of modification rights should be freely tradeable among 
> in-group members.

Sounds nice. As a Bayesian libertarian I generally agree.

Dr Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Oxford University

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