Is it necessary to have an ideal of perfection in mind to identify and evaluate true biotechnological human “enhancements”, or can one do without? To answer this question we suggest employing the distinction between ideal and non-ideal theory, found in the debate in political philosophy about theories of justice: the distinctive views about whether one needs an idea of a perfectly just society or not when it comes to assessing the current situation and recommending steps to increase justice.
In this paper we argue that evaluating human enhancements from a non-ideal perspective has some serious shortcomings, which can be avoided when endorsing an ideal approach. Our argument starts from a definition of human enhancement as improvement, which can be understood in two ways. The first approach is backward-looking and assesses improvements with regard to a status quo ante.
The second, a forward-looking approach, evaluates improvements with regard to their proximity to a goal or according to an ideal. After outlining the limitations of an exclusively backward-looking view (non-ideal theory), we answer possible objections against a forward-looking view (ideal theory). Ultimately, we argue that the human enhancement debate would lack some important moral insights if a forward-looking view of improvement is not taken into consideration.