Sunday, November 12, 2006

spontaneity as our innermost 'nature'

"The prospect of biogenetic intervention opened up by increasing access to the human genome effectively emancipates humankind from the constraints of a finite species, from enslavement to the 'selfish gene'. Emancipation comes at a price, however. In a talk he gave in Marburg in 2001, Habermas repeated his warning against biogenetic manipulation. There are, as he sees it, two main threats. First, that such interventions will blur the borderline between the made and the spontaneous and thus affect the way we understand ourselves. For an adolescent to learn that his 'spontaneous' (say, aggressive or peaceful) disposition is the result of a deliberate external intervention into his genetic code will undermine the heart of his identity, putting paid to the notion that we develop our moral being through Bildung, the painful struggle to educate our natural dispositions. Ultimately, biogenetic intervention could render the idea of education meaningless. Second, such interventions will give rise to asymmetrical relations between those who are 'spontaneously' human and those whose characters have been manipulated: some individuals will be the privileged 'creators' of others.

At the most elementary level, this will affect our sexual identity. The ability of parents to choose the sex of their offspring is one issue. Another is the status of sex-change operations. Up until now, it has been possible to justify these by evoking a gap between biological and psychic identity: when a biological man experiences himself as a woman trapped in a man's body, it is reasonable that (s)he be allowed to change her biological sex in order to introduce a balance between her sexual and her emotional life. Biogenetic manipulation opens up much more radical perspectives. It may retroactively change our understanding of ourselves as 'natural' beings, in the sense that we will experience our 'natural' dispositions as mediated, not as given - as things which can in principle be manipulated and therefore as merely contingent. There can be no return to a naive immediacy once we know that our natural dispositions depend on genetic contingency; to stick to them through thick and thin will be as false as sticking to the old 'organic' mores. According to Habermas, however, we should act as if this were not the case, and thus maintain our sense of dignity and autonomy. The paradox is that this autonomy can be preserved only by prohibiting access to the contingency which determines us - that is, by limiting the possibilities of scientific intervention. This is a new version of the old argument that, if we are to retain our moral dignity, it's better not to know certain things. Curtailing science, as Habermas seems to be suggesting, would come at the price of widening the split between science and ethics: a split which already prevents us from seeing the way these new conditions compel us to transform and reinvent the notions of freedom, autonomy and ethical responsibility."

Full here


lisa said...

The link doesn't work. Perhaps you could re-post this.

lisa said...

<10> The relationship between communicative understanding and its background is two way and not just one way as is in Kant. As against Kant where the background understanding remains unaffected by the data provided by senses in the case of Habermas the background is itself reproduced by the accomplishments of actors partially determined by it. Again another and perhaps most important difference is that as against Kant's conception of pure intelligibility Habermas' conception of lifeworld is not merely 'ideal' and 'rational,' on the contrary 'ideality' and 'facticity' are intertwined in it (BFN: Chapter 1). It would seem that at last the gulf between the realm of intelligibility and sensibility has been overcome. In the above-mentioned divergence from Kant Habermas' version of lifeworld resembles Hegel's conception of Spirit (Habermas, 1974: 146f).

Can you tease a little more?

Ali Rizvi said...

thanks Lisa, the link is now fixed.


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