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Should We Undertake Genetic Research on Intelligence?

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Although the concept of intelligence is difficult to define, research has provided evidence for a significant genetic component. Attempts are now being made to use molecular genetic approaches to identify genes contributing to intelligence, and to determine the ways in which they interact with environmental variables. This research is then likely to determine the developmental pathways of intelligence, in an effort to understand mental handicap and learning disorders and develop new treatment strategies. This paper reviews research on the genetic basis of intelligence, and discusses the ethical concerns, including the role of genetic information, the value we place on intelligence and the allocation of resources. It will be argued that the objections raised are problematic, and that because of the value of this knowledge and the prospect of improving lives, this research is morally required. We will then provide a brief analysis of the issues raised by enhancement of intelligence using genetic technology, and will argue that there is no intrinsic difference between this and other means of optimising intelligence.

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: Ethics Unit, The Murdoch Institute Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne

Publication date: July 1, 1999


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