Is Human Nature Obsolete?: Genetics, Bioengineering, and the Future of the Human Condition

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MIT Press, 2005 - Business & Economics - 422 pages
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As our scientific and technical abilities expand at breathtaking speeds, concern that modern genetics and bioengineering are leading us to a posthuman future is growing. Is Human Nature Obsolete? poses the overarching question of what it is to be human against the background of these current advances in biotechnology. Its perspective is philosophical and interdisciplinary rather than technical; the focus is on questions of fundamental ontological importance rather than the specifics of medical or scientific practice.

The authors -- all distinguished scholars in their fields -- take on questions about technology's goals and values that are often ignored or sidelined in the face of rapid scientific advances and the highly specialized nature of technical knowledge. The essays included represent a rich variety of thought, ranging from finely nuanced philosophical and theological arguments to historical studies and cultural commentaries. Several explore the historical background of today's biotechnology: Timothy Casey traces such developments as the emergence of cybernetic humanity from Cartesian dualism, and Diane Paul presents the history of "positive" versus coerced eugenics. Jean Bethke Elshtain discusses cloning as a "messianic project" to perfect the body and exclude natural diversity -- giving as an example the elimination of Down Syndrome as an acceptable human type -- while Harold Baillie calls for an examination of the metaphysical roots of personhood. Robert Proctor finds no evidence in paleontology for any "essence of humanity," and Tom Shannon argues against materialist reductionism. Addressing social concerns, Lisa Sowle Cahill finds the possibility of a political solution to the problems raised by genetic engineering in Catholic teachings on social justice, and Langdon Winner looks critically at the "scientific enthusiasts of a posthuman future." Taken as a whole, the book provides a humanistic overview of a subject too often considered only in its technological aspect.

 

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Contents

Nature Technology and the Emergence of Cybernetic
35
Nature and Human Nature
67
Discontents and Consolations
99
The Uses of History
123
The Body and the Quest for Control
155
Life and the Accident of Birth
177
The Uncertainty
209
Molecular Anthropology
235
Human Nature in a PostHuman Genome Project World
269
Telos Value and Genetic Engineering
317
Nature Sin and Society
339
Past Present and Future
367
The Posthuman Condition and
385
Contributors
413
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Harold W. Baillie is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Scranton.

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