Wednesday, May 3, 2017
The Future of Human Nature pt. 2 - The Moral Limits of Eugenics
In the first installation (which can be found here), I attempted to summarize Habermas's thoughts on "the grown and the made." Habermas's notion here is that, before diving into the Pandora's box that is unlimited biotechnical possibilities, we should first question what we value, and what exactly we mean by "we."
A mere two sections past the previous one I covered, Habermas has stopped trying to convince us to slow our biotechnical roll. At this point, he is assuming that we're going to push the limits, and he's trying to guide us by setting moral boundaries and posing hard-hitting questions.
The section titles "the moral limits of eugenics" is the focus of part two. In the opening paragraph of this section, Habermas states his thesis in no unclear terms:
"Eugenic programming of desirable traits and dispositions, however, gives rise to moral misgivings as soon as it commits the person concerned to a specific life-project or, in any case, puts specific restrictions on his freedom to choose a life of his own." (61)
In essence, Habermas is making the case that it is never, ever morally justifiable to make eugenic modifications that may determine what an individual's life comes to be.
Genetics are an undeniable identifying characteristic that necessarily changes our lives. Whether it be height, skin or eye color, intelligence, or athletic ability- all of these things have a profound effect upon an individual. These (previously) unchangeable characteristics are what Habermas refers to as "natural fate."
He contrasts his idea of nature fate with that of the "socialization fate." The important distinction he makes here is the power of the "second party," or the party that doesn't determine the fate and is instead subject to it. The individual subject to either fate has the opportunity to correct or otherwise change the outcome of the socialization fate; however, the natural fate, as it may be determined by a parent though eugenic enhancement, is entirely inaccessible to the second party. In fact, the second party isn't even "real" in the argument, as the parents would be expected to say "who/what do we want our child to be" instead of "do we possess the moral justification to determine this individual's life?"
Habermas challenges this idea by bringing up the obvious fact: nobody consented to being born! We all are conceived, that is the way of the world- why would it matter if someone other than "fate" rolled the dice? The flaw to this (admittedly not well constructed) argument is that the "creator" is not clarified.
Human being have pondered existence since the existence of pondering. The prospect of pondering the abstract nature of a "creator" is something that all humans (at least in the Western traditions) have in common; this "freedom" wouldn't extend to those individuals "created" or selected by their parents. Instead of the pondering the abstraction of existence, they would be forced to ponder the qualitative nature of determinism (by their parents). This exemplifies the unhealthy relationship detailed above- such a one-way relationship with no compromise or opportunity for recourse is unprecedented and morally unjust.
Word count: 514