Chapter

Nature as Given, Nature as Guide, Nature as Natural Kinds: Return to Nature in the Ethics of Human Biotechnology

Gerald McKenny

in Without Nature?

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print December 2009 | ISBN: 9780823230693
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823237227 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5422/fso/9780823230693.003.0008
Nature as Given, Nature as Guide, Nature as Natural Kinds:               Return to Nature in the Ethics of Human Biotechnology

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This chapter addresses the question of nature as normative. Drawing on the writings of Michael Sandel, Leon Kass, and Francis Fukuyama, members of President George W. Bush's Council on Bioethics, it proposes three ways that nature is given normative status in contemporary discussions of bioengineering. Sandel, Kass, and Fukuyama all set out in the hope that a conception of the normative significance of nature will set limits and give direction to recent and emerging uses of biotechnology where the moral and political order of liberal society, with its narrow focus on autonomy and justice (Sandel), its exaggerated humanitarianism (Kass), and its failure to secure its own grounds (Fukuyama), has failed. In each case, the appeal to nature identifies certain goods that are threatened by the contemporary version of the Cartesian program: kinds of worth that resist our will to mastery (Sandel), aspects of embodied life that are the source of human meaning (Kass), and commitments to equality of worth (Fukuyama). In each case, though, the claim to establish nature as a norm was not sustainable, though for different reasons. We are left in the uncomfortable position of recognizing that to be entirely without nature in any of these three senses would leave us morally impoverished while acknowledging that we are unable to draw clear lines that would indicate the point at which our moral impoverishment would occur.

Keywords: nature; normativity; Michael Sandel; Leon Kass; Francis Fukuyama; bioengineering

Chapter.  11447 words. 

Subjects: Christian Theology

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