Is biotechnology the new alchemy?
Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A, Volume 40, Issue 1, pgs 70-80
In this article I examine similarities between the science and ethics
of biotechnology on the one hand, and those of alchemy on the other,
and show that the understanding of nature and naturalness upon which
many contemporary ethical responses to biotechnology are predicated is,
in fact, significantly similar to the understanding of nature that was
the foundation of the practice of alchemy. In doing so I demonstrate
that the ethical issues and social responses that are currently arising
from advances in the field of biotechnology are interestingly similar
to those that arose in reaction to the practice and prevalence of
alchemy from its inception in Europe in the mid-twelfth century until
at least the early modern period. I argue that a proper conception of
the ethical issues and a sensible interpretation of the power and the
promise of the science of biotechnology are most likely if we
understand such attitudes to nature, and to the ethical issues
surrounding technological and scientific developments, in terms of an
historical and cultural continuum. That is, we should regard
biotechnology as merely the latest in a string of technological and
scientific developments rather than, as is often alleged, as something
entirely new, requiring its own special ethical response. Finally, I
suggest that examining the parallels between the ethical issues
generated by alchemy and by biotechnology show us that such issues are
best situated and discussed within a framework of virtue ethics, as it
allows us to think seriously about the relationship between art and
nature and the proper role of humans in relation to their technology.
Read the article.
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(Something interesting I found)Posted: Wednesday, July 15, 2009