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The Philosopher Who Says We Should Play God

Australian bioethicist Julian Savulescu has a knack for provocation. Take human cloning. He says most of us would readily accept it if it benefited us. As for eugenics—creating smarter, stronger, more beautiful babies—he believes we have an ethical obligation to use advanced technology to select the best possible children.

A protégé of the philosopher Peter Singer, Savulescu is a prominent moral philosopher at the University of Oxford, where he directs the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. He also edits the Journal of Medical Ethics. Savulescu isn’t shy about stepping onto ethical minefields. He sees nothing wrong with doping to help cyclists climb those steep mountains in the Tour de France. Some elite athletes will always cheat to boost their performance, so instead of trying to enforce rules that will be broken, he claims we’d be better off with a system that allows low-dose doping.

So does Savulescu just get off being outrageous? “I actually think of myself as the voice of common sense,” he says, though he admits to receiving his share of hate mail. He’s frustrated by how hard it is to have reasoned arguments about loaded issues without getting flamed on the Internet. Savulescu thinks we need to become far more adept at sorting out difficult moral issues. Otherwise, he says, the human species will face dire consequences in the coming decades.

I caught up with Savulescu in Australia, where he was on sabbatical. We talked about a wide range of looming ethical issues, from new technology that will change how we’re born and how we die, to transhumanism, to how the world might end.

The candid philosopher: “I actually think of myself as the voice of commonsense,” says Julian Savulescu. “If you actually looked at things without any kind of baggage, you’d view them like me.” University of Oxford

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