It is stated that cosmetic surgery is cheating genetics if the end result is aimed at increasing one's physical attraction and thus ultimately affecting natural selection in this person's favor.

But where is the line drawn? What if one alters their appearance or physical attractiveness to the same end as stated above but does not do so with assistance of a plastic surgeon or doctor/expert?

Does chewing to strengthen my jaw count as trying to cheat? Makeup? Steroids? BMP-2? Haircuts? Clothes? Tattoos? Tanning? Piercings? Frauding? Lifts? Fillers? Le Forts? Osteotomies? Non-surgical mechanical tension to slowly alter bones? HGH? Minoxidil? Carotenoid tans? Facial hair? Eyebrow angle styling/plucking? Botox/Argireline? Anti-aging? Where is the line drawn?

Am I a cheater? If one cheats to win, does that mean they were biologically destined to fail?

If I do cheat and win eventually, how am I supposed to feel knowing that I had to cheat? I will know that I failed prior to cheating. That would make me think I am naturally a loser and had to artificially increase sexual desirability. How can I live knowing this and not hate myself or feel inadequate/depressed?

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    Can you give references for "cosmetic surgery is cheating genetics?" Give that the "rules of the game" for evolution have never been written down, we would need to understand specifically where that author is coming from, and what they consider cheating to mean.
    – Cort Ammon
    Jul 9 '18 at 5:39
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    At first, going to cosmetic surgeon is not connected with natural selection, it's connected with sexual seoection. Cheating requires rules, but are there any? You also may assume guns are cheating against natural selection, but no - they are result of such selection.
    – rus9384
    Jul 9 '18 at 8:30
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    Related question: how can you not hate yoruself for cheating the polio virus by getting a vaccination instead of just letting yoruself become crippled for life or dying... because of course you would not cheat your breathing paralysis with a ventilator or an iron lung now would you. In short: nature does not impose ethical rules on us and do not concern itself with petty human notions of "good" or "bad". Humans "cheat" at nature all the time. Look around you.... do you find anything in your immediate surruondings that is 100% unaltered compared to how it exists in nature, including yourself?
    – MichaelK
    Jul 9 '18 at 8:51
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    How is that cheating? The genetics of your brain came up with that brilliant idea to do all these things, so its better genetics than those that did not came up with the idea.
    – PlasmaHH
    Jul 9 '18 at 14:50
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    Natural selection is full of "cheating", which is simply a term that says you are using means outside an allowed set. Well, guess what, nature has no allowed set. Look at the animal kingdom and you will find that animals use every trick they can find to survive, to find mates, to protect their children, etc.
    – Tom
    Jul 9 '18 at 14:59

Nonsensical question

"Cheating genetics" is a nonsensical concept. Genetics is not a game, nor does genetics impose any kind of ethical or morals rules that anyone is bound to follow. You cannot "cheat" when there are no rules to cheat against.

The assumption that "natural" means "good" — and therefore in complement that "not natural" is "not good" — is exposed as a fallacy by G.E. Moore. It is simply called The Naturalistic Fallacy.

If you look closely at things, you will find that mankind creates ethics that oppose genetics and nature, and espeicially so the purely biological ascpect of evolution by natural selection. Where in nature someone weak and unfit for life will be left behind to die, humans have said that this is inhumane. It is in our human nature to rid ourselves of inconveniences that non-human nature — in its blindness of our needs and wishes — have imposed on us.

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    "Genetics is not a game" - I'd argue it is, but the rule is to survive and/or pass yourself into the future.
    – rus9384
    Jul 9 '18 at 10:22
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    @rus9384 That is like saying gravity is a game where you "win" by not falling to your death... which is just silly. So, no, any set of circumstances where only laws of nature is acting on you is not a game. You need human-made rules for it to be a game. And you need human-made rules in order to "cheat", because only humans care about you breaking their rules.
    – MichaelK
    Jul 9 '18 at 10:28
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    @rus9384 So what? Differ between game and competition. Not all games are competitions, not all competitions are games. Nash's theory could equally well - if not better - have been called "Competition theory" instead of "Game theory". It is just not as verbally succinct and snappy as "Game theory".
    – MichaelK
    Jul 9 '18 at 11:03
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    So, you think life always is a competition? People help each other, create collectives, some other animals do it too, so, this is not merely a competition. So, I wouldn't assume it's "Competition theory" as well, rather "Goal achievement theory". Also, Moore's argument is awkward when you try to apply it anywhere. Rather, if people do something, nature already allowed it, therefore appeal to nature is meaningless.
    – rus9384
    Jul 9 '18 at 12:17
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – rus9384
    Jul 9 '18 at 12:41

Natural selection applies just as much to your choices as to your appearance, in so far as your genes are concerned.

If you make choices that alter your appearance and "win" accordingly (assuming "win" means able to successfully mate and pass on your genes), then any genes that had a role to play in forming your brain and thus influenced your mental workings such that you made those choices are the ones that are "winning", from a natural selection perspective.

Natural selection is at play anywhere that being different changes the odds of one thing persisting or duplicating versus another. There's by definition no cheating possible, only changing selective pressures (in this case, reducing the advantage of genes that code for appearance to genes that influence aspects of your mind).

  • +1 A reference would help strengthen the answer by providing readers a place to go for more information. Welcome to this SE. Jul 9 '18 at 17:09
  • @FrankHubeny Thank you! I've been giving your comment some thought over the last few days, and I'm afraid I'm not sure that I know anything to cite. For me, all of the above is based on an epiphany or several I had at some point had when contemplating how various complex systems change over time. Because I do want to be able to do that, one day I will start looking at texts that explain the natural selection in the hope of finding at least one that to me seems like a good guide through the reasoning, knowledge, and epiphanies needed to grok the concept; just right now I don't know of one.
    – mtraceur
    Jul 13 '18 at 20:24

My friend, evolution IS ALL ABOUT CHEATING!

Life evolves to cheat the environment in which it’s found and the environment changes in kind.

Cosmetic surgery is just another tool in the homo sapien’s arsenal. We can alter our appearance using technology. Women can alter their ability to have children using the pill.

The fundamental difference in cheating the environment when we were primates and cheating it now is this: choice.

Now we have the ability to choose what we become. This brings a moral dimension to evolution, and it’s what you’re brushing against when you ask your question. What you’re really wanting to know is not whether you can alter what you are, but whether you should.

This is a context-sensitive question having three alternatives: is the cheating immoral, given the circumstance, or is it moral, or, further, is it amoral?

Kant distinguished categorical and hypothetical imperatives. Categorical imperatives are moral choices. You ought to treat all humans as persons with dignity. Whereas hypothetical imperatives are amoral choices. You ought to go to medical school if you want to be a doctor. Sometimes the decision to alter your body is a moral choice. Sometimes it’s an amoral one. Sometimes it’s easy to know when it’s either. Sometimes it’s difficult.

It was moral for my parents to circumcise me. I would’ve grown up with a higher chance of physical problems otherwise. It was amoral for me to get a tooth cleaning in order to have a brighter smile.

Nature is blind. She doesn’t care what you do. The Good on the other hand cares intensely what you do and how you conduct yourself. The question is this: in your choices, are you serving nature or are you serving the Good?

  • The morality of circumcision is arguable and the evidence for the benefits are very limited, especially when there is evidence of ill effects that could outweigh the supposed benefits.
    – forest
    Jul 10 '18 at 21:58
  • everything’s arguable. My point there wasn’t to defend circumcision as a viable med practice. My point was that, given what my parents knew at the time, their decision to circumcise me was a moral one. For all we know they chose wrong, but they had purity of intention in choosing to try and prevent my future suffering, given what they knew. If that’s not a moral choose involving the alteration of my natural body then I don’t know what is.. take incubators as another example if you don’t like the circumcision one. The point is the same: some choices to alter our evolution are moral choices.
    – WxGeo
    Jul 10 '18 at 22:12


Cheating and plastic surgery are cultural artefacts, genetics and looks are physical nature. You imply that the change of physical nature through culture was against human nature, that physical givenness (genetics, looks pre-surgery) is human nature. This is not the case. The change of their physical nature (natural givenness) is an expression of human nature.

In principle, this is governed by morals - like all human action. You may accept this or you may not - it really depends on who you ask and what your values are. Morals as a cultural reality (might be different for their basis) are arbitrary: They are dependent on their socio-cultural and historical place.

On the other hand, there is a line to be drawn apart from historically and culturally contingent morals: These changes through cultural means have to be lived by and in the corporeal existence that is their condition. Boundless change of physicality (plastic surgery, kybernetics, drugs) has a limit in the fact that the human existence is both physical and cultural (both in themselves and their surroundings):

Whatever humans do to themselves or their surroundings, it has to be endured by their physical body that they (also) are and the nature in which they are. The absolute limit is that where a) the body or the world cannot physically bear the change (often reported by women with massively enlarged breasts, toxical environment) and b) the subject cannot identify itself with the body it is (psychological dissociation*) or its surroundings (think members of uncontacted peoples in a modern metropolitan area like Tokyo) anymore.

*psychological dissociation between subject and body is immanent in torture and rape, see Bernstein, J. M. (2015). Torture and dignity: An essay on moral injury. University of Chicago Press.

(another aspect is sociality - acceptance by other persons that are a constitutive element of the socio-cultural existence of the human - but this would go to far for this answer)

Insofar, the gist of the question is not nonsensical.

On the other hand, your question is incoherent (something also pointed out in the answer of @MichaelK): On one hand, you base the question on the idea that there is a fundamental divide between the laws of a perpetual physical nature (evolution, genetics, natural looks) and cultural expressivity (plastic surgery), but at the same time you have to admit that plastic surgery is an interference into physical nature, rendering this in ethical - cultural - terms (cheating).

Ironically, you can do so exactly because of the twofoldedness of human nature you are questioning.

Philosophical background

This is an insight of the philosophy of Helmuth Plessner. For a very short introduction, you can look here.

One aspect of what he calls "excentric positionality" - the defining characteristic of the human - is their "natural artificiality": Humans are cultural beings by their very nature. They cannot live up to their existential conditions without forming themselves and their surroundings.

Excentric positionality means that the human is not setted, not "at home" in the mere physical existence of living in one's body in natural equilibrium with its surroundings.

This is something Hannah Arendt rendered in her book The Human Condition (1958) as the difference between labor - sustaining one's life functions - and work and action - changing the conditions of one's own living by creating physical things like tools and houses (work) or by speech and writing in the political sphere, changing the social conditions (action).

The human condition per Hannah Arendt is that it has to do all three in order to live up to that which is specifically human: Animals sustain their physical life as well, some of them even build physical homes (birds build nests) or use tools (apes, ravens - it is questionable if they produce tools, though), but only the human can have a political life and influence social conditions per cultural expressions (language) instead of physicality (animals define their social position through physical means).

Plessner is able to catch that (and much more) in terms of the existential structure of the human, though, and can explain why the building of a nest is different from the building of a house (beyond the scope of this answer).

Technical details of the philosophical background

To give a more technical description of natural artificiality based on Plessner's book The Levels of the Organic and the Human from 1928 (English translation by Millay Hyatt forthcoming):

The distance from the lived physical body [Körperleib], the not being setted in its own physical living, leaves the excentrically positioned being in a situation where it stands in opposition to the vital processes of interaction between its organism and its surroundings: it is driven into existentialism, has to ask how to live and what to do (ibid:309). In an excentrically positioned being, a distance between the subject of the act and the subject-core of the living thing is its constitutive principle (ibid:296–97): it has to actively make the vital life its own life because it is not “going through” the subject of the act simply by virtue of its positional character.

Animals are standing right in their vital processes, they are grounded in nature and carried by it, resting in it. The being of excentric positionality, on the other hand, does not have a complete “natural grounding” in that sense as only one half – the physical lived body – is grounded in nature: the grounding for the other half has to be established by itself so that it can live its life carried by what it established and nature (ibid:316–17). The balance of the whole that was provided by purely organic means for the plant and the animal (ibid:219) is lost because the whole of human existence is not inside the organism. In other words: the human has to “make himself into what he already is” (ibid:309) because of a “constitutive lack of balance “ (ibid:316, see also 321) immanent in excentric positionality.

As the whole of the human existence is not carried by the organism alone, it is only “natural” that the human tries to establish something in the world that corresponds to this not (already) being nature, a second nature or culture (ibid:310–11). And the only thing that can correspond to the nothingness of the nowhere/never of excentricity is something that is not positively given as such (ibid).

Only then, the human being can actively, spontaneously, as a subject determine the conditions in which the vital life has to fit and sets its life circle – as both excentric and corporeal being – into freedom by closing it in its excentric subject: humans perform their life as both excentric and corporeal, or lead their life as a whole [Ganzheit] – subject and physical lived body in equilibrium – only by living under conditions that they themselves formed (ibid:316).

In other words: Only if the requirements of the excentric positionality are satisfied, the excentrically positioned being can set itself into the subject-core of its corporeal existence and “be itself”, i.e. an “I” (ibid:392,325–26). Their form of organisation is excentric (ibid:193,307) and building itself a home is the only way the excentric life-form can live its organic life: It is artificial by nature.

At the same time, it cannot escape the corporeal bounds, has to live its life as the "I" that it is, which is setted in its corporeal existence it has become. Without identifying with one's corporeal existence, life cannot be lived. And the end of the corporeal existence is the end of life.

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    If you like to discuss content or ask for clarification instead of proposing an improvement of the answer, please use this chat room.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jul 9 '18 at 13:58

I think that perhaps the biggest assumption you have made here is that genetics is the only piece that plays into natural selection of a species. While a person's genes certainly factor into an individual's health profile and provide a baseline for the physical appearance, humans also use artificial means to attract a mate. They are not alone in this behaviour, either. Many other species will employ objects during the courting process; either as an addition to their display or as a gift. Humans are just more sophisticated about the kinds of assistance they employ when attempting to woo another.

Science has significantly extended the expected age of humans. To answer your philosophical question of whether or not we have cheated natural selection: yes, of course. But it isn't the botox that's doing it.


Natural selection makes people feel attracted to those that give them the best chance of propagating their genes, this is another way of saying that our standards of beauty are indicators of health.

Now you're saying that making changes that affect your perceived beauty is "cheating" natural selection and you want to know how one would justify this. You also want to know where to "draw the line".

I'll start by stating where I'd draw the line between what could be considered cheating and what isn't, then I'll address how to justify it.

Where to draw the line: here the essence is that you are pretending to have genes that are better than they truly are. So things like working out to enlarge specific muscles groups or growing facial hair are things that are OK: they highlight your genetic potential, you're not hiding what you're made of. Cutting your hair and wearing nice clothes to compliment your features is fine, too, you're not lying about your body. Things such as stuffed bras or toupées that either aim to create a non-existent features or hide "faults" would be considered cheating. Surgery that changes your appearance (like cosmetic nose reconstruction surgery) similarly are considered cheating. Basically, anything that you alter on yourself but which you know won't be passed onto your kids is a false flag to a potential mate and would be considered cheating. Working on things that highlight who you are is fine.

As to how you can justify it, I see two ways:

First: you could see natural selection as being a desired goal, in which case your objective is to do whatever is needed to propagate YOUR genes. Remember, natural selection isn't about individuals putting the society's interests before their own, it's quite the other way around: people are selfish and try to propagate their genes; the best "breed" naturally propagates. So in this situation it would be completely justifiable to alter your looks in order to propagate your genes, even if you are doing your mate a disfavour.

Second: forget about natural selection, it's a concept that promotes selfishness; humans are altruistic and since the beginning of societies we've helped the weak survive. We've deemed it inhumane to let someone starve to death just because they couldn't find a job and ran out of cash for food. Humans generally tend to help each other out and ignore natural selection when they interact in that way. You could do the same: alter your looks and don't give a second thought to the fact that you're altering the way natural selection works.


It is stated that cosmetic surgery is cheating genetics if the end result is aimed at increasing one's physical attraction and thus ultimately affecting natural selection in this person's favor.

What you are talking about is not natural but sexual selection.

This statement can be considered an opinion. What are the arguments to show it is cheating? What if this human is not going to have kids? Would it be cheating to go to sperm bank in order to get pregnant thus overcoming mechanisms of sexual selection? Indeed, going to sperm bank itself is a mechanism of selection. One might call it artificial selection, but artificial arguably is the subset of natural.

But where is the line drawn?

As in the case of any opinion, wherever the human expressing that opinion wants.

Examining the semantics

Let us look for definition of cheating. According to cambridge dictionary to "cheat" is

to behave in a dishonest way in order to get what you want

According to the same dictionary "honest" means

telling the truth or able to be trusted and not likely to steal, cheat, or lie

So, what does then cheating the nature mean? Nature is not conscious, therefore it's impossible to cheat it. Same applies to genetics.

Cheating humans perspective

Whom you can cheat are only conscious beings. Indeed, humans belong to this group (and some animals too, but here it's irrelevant). But let us return to the definition. Well, let's assume that having some kind of looks is a form of language. But then if the human looks as [s]he wants, there is not falsity. Only truth is present: I look so, because I want to look so.

If this was not enough

If I do cheat and win eventually, how am I supposed to feel knowing that I had to cheat? I will know that I failed prior to cheating. That would make me think I am naturally a loser and had to artificially increase sexual desirability. How can I live knowing this and not hate myself or feel inadequate/depressed?

If, after reading all I have written, you still think like it's cheating, what you need is just to understand that you just are making your decisions. What does it mean to be naturally a loser? Is the one who didn't change their looks artificially and wasn't sexually successful a loser? Is the one who changed their looks and was sexually successful because of that a loser?

But what if a human has born disabled? Is [s]he allowed to have a surgery in order to get cured? Can we call that human a loser? Or a winner, who have got what they want by artificial means? Same applies to sexual attractiveness.


You cannot cheat at evolution because it has no goal.

The reason we sometimes think of it as having a goal (such as passing on genes that help us survive) is because we, by default, evolved to like the genes that resulted in our species. However, this is not the goal of evolution; it is the result of evolution.

Evolution is a process resulting from all factors that operate on or within a given species. This can lead to many different things, all emergent products of an ongoing process.

In other words:

Cheating matters only when rules matter.

Rules only matter when a goal exists.

A goal must be determined prior to the outcome.

Predetermination requires agency.

Evolution is a process with no agency.

Therefore, evolution has no goal.

Therefore, evolution has no rules that matter.

Therefore, cheating does not matter in evolution.

Cheating that does not matter is not different from not cheating.

Therefore, there is no cheating in evolution.

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    I made an edit. You may roll this back or continue editing. Good point about goals and agency. Jul 11 '18 at 0:14

Any information that is good at "replicating" itself will tend to do so. This is true not only for genes, but for any kind of information. However genes are easier to think about since they are a very distinct unit of information and they are easy to measure (both in prevalence within a population and also in information-content). They are the main unit of information in biological evolution.

The information in "plastic surgery" is not a genetic one, but a cultural one. Its media isn't DNA. It's in the knowledge science has generated located in human minds. If the knowledge of how to perform plastic surgery and how to access it is good at propagating itself, it will tend to do so. This is true for all kinds of knowledge.

In essence, you seem to be asking if any action that will increase your fitness is the same as cheating, which to me clearly is "no". Any action that increases your fitness is part of evolution - biological or otherwise.

Imagine the far future. There might be cyborgs or advanced AIs doing all kinds of things instead of us humans. Evolution will still take place, but biological evolution will not. Therefore, there is no cheating, just different kinds of information propagating.

  • I made some edits. You may roll these back or continue editing further. I did not understand this sentence: "Your notion of "cheating" can be applied to almost any behavior, but it's not." Welcome to this SE. Jul 10 '18 at 16:45
  • @FrankHubeny Agreed, it was unclear and also redundant. I removed it Jul 11 '18 at 11:44

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