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Abolitionism (bioethics)

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The Utilitarianism series,
part of the Politics series

Abolitionism is a bioethical school and movement which proposes the use of biotechnology to maximize happiness and minimize suffering while working towards the abolition of involuntary suffering.[1] “Abolition” is used for the name of this movement, in the context of “the abolition of suffering".

The Abolitionist Society is a non-profit foundation and forum, founded in 2002, dedicated to the advancement of this philosophy.


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In this context, Abolitionism (not to be confused with the anti-slavery movement of the same name) is inspired by Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian ethic, [2] but goes a step further in that it is more principally inspired by the tenets of negative utilitarianism.[3]Some Abolitionists consider the elimination of genetic discrimination to be a vital component of Abolitionism in the larger sense : eliminating all involuntary sentient suffering, which is believed to stem from Darwinian design. Most abolitionists would be classified as negative utilitarian, believing that suffering of any kind, no matter how small, should be prevented. [4] Philosopher David Pearce’s abolitionist manifesto, “The Hedonistic Imperative”, serves as both an inspiration for the group’s theories and as a demonstration of how the world can convert Abolitionist philosophy into reality.

To many people surveyed, achieving the highest level of happiness possible is the most important aspect and primary goal of their lives.[5] Many people think that money or love will make them happier, but this has not been found to be the case in scientific studies.[6][7] Happiness exists, but sometimes not for long, and people experience negative consequences from emotions and events to a greater extent than they experience the opposite effect from positive emotions — it is easy to make someone unhappy and much less easy to make that person happy again.[8] Humans have been found in studies to achieve a “baseline happiness,”[9] sometimes called the hedonic treadmill, a pre-determined happiness level that a person will return to throughout their entire lives no matter what happens to him or her, regardless of income[10], and regardless of the occurrence of events that most people theorize would make a person permanently happy or permanently sad, such as a lottery win or the death of a close relative.

According to evolutionary theory, humans evolved through natural selection and follow genetic imperatives which seek to maximize reproduction[11], not happiness. As a result of these selection pressures, the extent of human happiness is limited biologically. Through advanced scientific research, especially in the fields of neuroscience, biotechnology, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and psychopharmacology, Pearce theorizes in his manifesto that humans can overcome their genetic propensity for depression and suffering. Abolitionists see depression as a physical, not mental, deficiency, that can therefore be solved just as anesthesia can prevent pain and just as medication can often make one feel better or worse. A depressed person can usually make themselves feel better only by attacking the physical root of the depression (e.g. by taking an antidepressant that changes serotonin re-uptake levels in the brain). By similarly re-engineering the brain, humans can become a new kind of being which experiences primarily happiness rather than a longing to reproduce. Some imagine that this could be accomplished through not only technology already in the pipeline, such as genetic engineering, but techniques that have not yet been realized such as mind uploading.

Abolitionists promote the idea that emotions have a physically manipulable, not spiritual, source - and that therefore we have the ability to fundamentally change the way that humans' brains operate and the way that humans experience life.[12] Abolitionists believe that where biological evolution has failed to create happiness for all people, technology can take over and eventually create a new type of posthuman which feels only happiness and never suffers involuntarily while retaining and enhancing observable functionality. The Abolitionist Society is dedicated to bringing this idea to fruition.

Scientific advancementsEdit

It is believed that the goals of the Abolitionist Society may be accomplished through scientific research. Recently, laboratory breakthroughs have bolstered the group's ideas by reinforcing the idea that happiness is physically-based and can be influenced through scientific methods. For example: a recent study found that when a certain gene affecting serotonin levels was removed from the brains of mice, the rodents became happy no matter their circumstances and no matter how depressed they would normally be.[13]

Guy Debonnel and his colleagues at McGill University conducted the research[14], which proved for the first time in a laboratory setting that depression could be entirely eliminated in an animal through gene manipulation.

An important discovery that boosts the case for the potential to abolish suffering is the example of deep brain stimulation of the brain's pleasure centers. The direct electrical stimulation does not create tolerance proving that there is a potential to overcome the brain's anhedonic homeostatic mechanisms.[citation needed] Pacemaker-type neurostimulators have been proven to reliably increase subjective happiness without causing detriments to functionality: these interventions have proven to actually increase various cognitive and social aspects of human functionality.

Neuroscientist R.J. Davidson has developed reliable means to objectively quantify subjective affective status using fMRI and EEG - demonstrating that happiness can be measured. Davidson's technological innovations also provide a more accurate means of assessing happiness than that provided by subjective questionnaires.


The term “abolitionism,” used to describe the use of biotechnology to eliminate suffering, was first proposed by Lewis Mancini in 1986, in his articles for Medical Hypotheses Journal. Abolitionism is the use of science to maximize happiness and minimize suffering — not just in humans but in all sentient life. It is a philosophy inspired by utilitarian ethics: if happiness equals value, then the elimination of suffering or 'maximization of value' should be the prime objective of the human race.

Abolitionism makes no distinction among sentient creatures— all are deemed worthy of being saved from suffering by biotechnological intervention.

An ethical system that is similar to transhumanism, Abolitionism deliberately defines its rationale and method of determining value according to a prime ethical directive with a focus on eliminating involuntary suffering, whereas Transhumanism promotes a collection of values including the well-being of all sentient beings without addressing the question of whether or not involuntary suffering should eventually be eliminated.


David Pearce, author of ‘’The Hedonistic Imperative’’ and honorary president, founded the group with Pablo Stafforini, Sean Henderson, and Jaime Savage. The Abolitionist Society now serves as the focal point and prime community for this movement and philosophy. Pearce maintains a network of related websites on the abolitionist movement and associated subjects.[15] The Abolitionist Society exists as a forum and ongoing initiative to critically evaluate and apply the ideals of Abolitionism through means of a nonprofit foundation.


The Abolitionist Society focuses primarily on promoting discussion and debate through the society's website forums as well as in other prominent and related forums. Designing websites which serve to educate as well as gain critical attention for the movement are also integral to the society's mission.[16] Other initiatives include collaborating with prominent thinkers in the field of ethics and philosophy to spread the Abolitionist meme as well as conducting interviews with various thinkers and activists. Many discussions with various leaders in the related fields of philosophy and ethics are undertaken covertly. The director of the society engages in open debate with any interested parties that would like to challenge the soundness of the Abolitionist directive.[17]


Technofantasy? Quite possibly. Perhaps we'll opt to conserve the nasty side of life for ever. But if you think minimising suffering is a good idea – and bioscience holds the answers – then web-based campaigning to win hearts and minds is a rational strategy.

David Pearce

Literature relating to the abolitionist projectEdit


  1. The Abolitionist Society. "Abolitionism". Retrieved on 2007-01-03.
  2. "Interview with David Pearce". Retrieved on 2007-01-03.
  3. "Utilitarian Bioethics". Retrieved on 2007-01-03.
  4. "The Despair of John Stuart Mill". Retrieved on 2007-01-03.
  5. Natasha Walter. "The most precious commodity". Retrieved on 2007-01-03.
  6. "Happiness, Money, and Giving It Away". Retrieved on 2007-01-03.
  7. Daniel Kahneman, Alan B. Krueger, David Schkade, Norbert Schwarz, Arthur A. Stone. "Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer? A Focusing Illusion". Retrieved on 2007-01-03.
  8. Roy F. Braumeister and Ellen Bratslavsky. "Bad Is Stronger Than Good". Retrieved on 2007-01-03.
  9. David Lykken and Auke Tellegen. "Happiness Is a Stochastic Phenomenon". Retrieved on 2007-01-03.
  10. RA Easterlin. "Will Raising the Incomes of All Increase the Happiness of All?". Retrieved on 2007-01-03.
  11. Raymond Bohlin. "Sociobiology: Evolution, Genes and Morality". Retrieved on 2007-01-03.
  12. Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. "The Abolition of Suffering". Retrieved on 2007-01-03.
  13. news article; discovery of a gene therapy for depression
  14. Heurteaux C, Lucas G, Guy N, et al (Sep 2006). "Deletion of the background potassium channel TREK-1 results in a depression-resistant phenotype". Nat Neurosci. 9 (9): 1134–41. doi:10.1038/nn1749. PMID 16906152. 
  15. HedWeb
  17. The Abolitionist Society :: View topic - Challenge the validity of the Abolitionist directive

External links Edit

fi:The Hedonistic Imperative

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