Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Future of Human Nature - Nick C. - Pt. 1

My in class presentation of Jürgen Habermas's The Future of Human Nature was a broad sweep at the (admittedly dense) twenty page introduction to his book on biotechnology. In his book published in 2003, Habermas attempts to briefly describe recent advances in biotechnology, then outlines the issues he sees with the practices.

Part one of my report will highlight the concepts Habermas brings to light in the fourth section of his book, titled "The grown and the made."

To set the stage for his argument, Habermas introduces different methods we use to posit ourselves in relation to nature- he calls them attitudes. Habermas traces this concept back to Aristotle, where he defines three different attitudes:
  • The theoretical attitude of the disinterested observer of nature,
  • The technical attitude of the actor who is engaged in production, and
  • The practical attitude of persons who either act with prudence or with an ethical orientation

These attitudes are not necessarily mutually exclusive; rather, any individual will assume a certain blend of any number of them. Habermas gives the examples of a peasant who tends her cattle and cultivates her soil, a doctor who diagnoses diseases in order to heal them, or a breeder who selects and improves hereditary traits of a population for her own ends.

One could easily see how the cattle herding peasant assumes the obvious technical attitude by virtue of her craft, and she could also have a healthy dose of practical attitude by practicing efficient farming techniques and being fair to her livestock. Similarly, the attitudes of the doctor might lean more towards the theoretical.

Habermas uses these distinct attitudes to contextualize the perspective of modern scientific advancements- seemingly in pursuit of "where it all went wrong." He says:

"The 'logic' of these forms of action which, in Aristotle, were still tailored to corresponding regions of being, has lost the ontological dignity of opening up specific perspectives on the world. In this dedifferentiation, modern experimental sciences played an important role. They combined the objectivating attitude of the disinterested observer with the technical attitude of an intervening actor producing experiental effects. The cosmos was no longer perceived as an object of pure contemplation; and 'soulless' nature, as seen by nominalism, was subjected to a different kind of objectivation. This gear of science to the task of converting an objectivated nature into something we may control by technological means had an important impact on the process of societal modernization."

Applying the attitudes he established earlier in the text, Habermas explains where he believes science ultimately got it wrong. The machine of progress that drives modern scientific advances has propagated a single attitude approaching the extreme. While other competing attitudes have not necessarily died out, the balanced blend that Habermas insists we must have has been disrupted and has ultimately lead our biotechnical advances to focus on not just what we are, but what we can be through this technology. In other words, we're moving further away from what we're made of and into what we're growing and molding ourselves into- a concept, Habermas would assert, that is completely out of tune with a healthy view (or attitude) towards nature. Word count: 542

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More info on Habermas can be found here

1 comment:

  1. It all comes back to the old "man vs. nature" trope we were all (I think) introduced to back in grade school, the idea that humans are pitted against the world in a life-or-death struggle we can only win by subduing and remaking a hostile environment. If Habermas is saying we need to reframe our relation to nature as an internal and self-identical form of symbiosis rather than a confrontation, I agree. The most practical attitude is also the most survivable. We don't have to renounce technology or retreat to pure theoretical detachment, we just have to know ourselves as nature's own knowers.