The scientific study of living organisms is permeated by machine and design metaphors. Genes are thought of as the ‘‘blueprint’’ of an organism, organisms are ‘‘reverse engineered’’ to discover their func- tionality, and living cells are compared to biochemical factories, complete with assembly lines, transport systems, messenger circuits, etc. Although the notion of design is indispensable to think about adapta- tions, and engineering analogies have considerable heuristic value (e.g., optimality assumptions), we argue they are limited in several important respects. In (...) particular, the analogy with human-made machines falters when we move down to the level of molecular biology and genetics. Living organisms are far more messy and less transparent than human-made machines. Notoriously, evolution is an oppor- tunistic tinkerer, blindly stumbling on ‘‘designs’’ that no sensible engineer would come up with. Despite impressive technological innovation, the prospect of artificially designing new life forms from scratch has proven more difficult than the superficial analogy with ‘‘programming’’ the right ‘‘software’’ would sug- gest. The idea of applying straightforward engineering approaches to living systems and their genomes— isolating functional components, designing new parts from scratch, recombining and assembling them into novel life forms—pushes the analogy with human artifacts beyond its limits. In the absence of a one-to-one correspondence between genotype and phenotype, there is no straightforward way to imple- ment novel biological functions and design new life forms. Both the developmental complexity of gene expression and the multifarious interactions of genes and environments are serious obstacles for ‘‘engi- neering’’ a particular phenotype. The problem of reverse-engineering a desired phenotype to its genetic ‘‘instructions’’ is probably intractable for any but the most simple phenotypes. Recent developments in the field of bio-engineering and synthetic biology reflect these limitations. Instead of genetically engi- neering a desired trait from scratch, as the machine/engineering metaphor promises, researchers are making greater strides by co-opting natural selection to ‘‘search’’ for a suitable genotype, or by borrowing and recombining genetic material from extant life forms. (shrink)
Most of Kant's readers have assumed that he demanded explanations for all synthetic a priori claims. I argue that this is not the case, and that Kant accepted some synthetic a priori claims as basic. I further argue that he took himself to be justified in making such claims on the basis of a certain sort of robust reflection. In essence, Kant's method is more like that of the phenomenologists than that of 20th century analytic philosophers.
Kant maintains that his Critique of Pure Reason follows a “synthetic method” which he distinguishes from the analytic method of the Prolegomena by saying that the Critique “rests on no other science” and “takes nothing as given except reason itself”. The paper presents an account of the synthetic method of the Critique, showing how it is related to Kant’s conception of the Critique as the “science of an a priori judging reason”. Moreover, the author suggests, understanding its (...) class='Hi'>synthetic method sheds light on the structure of the Transcendental Deduction, and its function in the work as a whole. (shrink)
W. V. O. Quine’s assault on the analytic/synthetic distinction is one of the most celebrated events in the history of twentieth century philosophy. This paper shines a light on Quine’s own understanding of the history of this distinction. More specifically, this paper argues, contrary to what seems to be the received view, that Quine explicitly recognized a kindred subversive spirit in David Hume.
The phrase ‘synthetic biology’ is used to describe a set of different scientific and technological disciplines, which share the objective to design and produce new life forms. This essay addresses the following questions: What conception of life stands behind this ambitious objective? In what relation does this conception of life stand to that of traditional biology and biotechnology? And, could such a conception of life raise ethical concerns? Three different observations that provide useful indications for the conception of life (...) in synthetic biology will be discussed in detail: 1. Synthetic biologists focus on different features of living organisms in order to design new life forms, 2. Synthetic biologists want to contribute to the understanding of life, and 3. Synthetic biologists want to modify life through a rational design, which implies the notions of utilising, minimising/optimising, varying and overcoming life. These observations indicate a tight connection between science and technology, a focus on selected aspects of life, a production-oriented approach to life, and a design-oriented understanding of life. It will be argued that through this conception of life synthetic biologists present life in a different light. This conception of life will be illustrated by the metaphor of a toolbox. According to the notion of life as a toolbox, the different features of living organisms are perceived as various rationally designed instruments that can be used for the production of the living organism itself or secondary products made by the organism. According to certain ethical positions this conception of life might raise ethical concerns related to the status of the organism, the motives of the scientists and the role of technology in our society. (shrink)
Van den Belt recently examined the notion that synthetic biology and the creation of ‘artificial’ organisms are examples of scientists ‘playing God’. Here I respond to some of the issues he raises, including some of his comments on my previous discussions of the value of the term ‘life’ as a scientific concept.
Some religious believers may see synthetic biology as usurping God's creative role. The Catholic Church has yet to issue a formal teaching on the field (though it has issued some informal statements in response to Craig Venter's development of a ‘synthetic’ cell). In this paper I examine the likely reaction of the Catholic Magisterium to synthetic biology in its entirety. I begin by examining the Church's teaching role, from its own viewpoint, to set the necessary backround and (...) context for the discussion that follows. I then describe the Church's attitude to science, and particularly to biotechnology. From this I derive a likely Catholic theology of synthetic biology.The Church's teachings on scientific and biotech research show that it is likely to have a generally positive disposition to synbio, if it and its products can be acceptably safe. Proper evaluation of, and protection against, risk will be a significant factor in determining the morality of the research. If the risks can be minimized through regulation or other means, then the Church is likely to be supportive. The Church will also critique the social and legal environment in which the research is done, evaluating issues such as the patenting of scientific discoveries and of life. (shrink)
Popper uses the "Humean challenge" as a justification for his falsificationism. It is claimed that in his basic argument he confuses two different doubts: (a) the Humean doubt (Popper's problem of induction), and (b) the "Popperean" doubt whether - presupposing that there are laws of nature - the laws we accept are in fact valid. Popper's alleged solution of the problem of induction does not solve the problem in a straightforward way (as Levison and Salmon have remarked before). But if (...) Popper's solution of the Humean challenge is re-interpreted as being close to Kant's it makes sense. Even though Popper explicitly rejects Kant's synthetic judgements a priori, it is claimed here that this is so because he misinterprets Kant's argument. If he had understood Kant correctly he should have been a modern "Kantianer"! (shrink)
Most of the reports on synthetic biology include not only familiar topics like biosafety and biosecurity but also a chapter on ‘ethical concerns’; a variety of diffuse topics that are interrelated in some way or another. This article deals with these ‘ethical concerns’. In particular it addresses issues such as the intrinsic value of life and how to deal with ‘artificial life’, and the fear that synthetic biologists are tampering with nature or playing God. Its aim is to (...) analyse what exactly is the nature of the concerns and what rationale may lie behind them. The analysis concludes that the above-mentioned worries do not give genuine cause for serious concern. In the best possible way they are interpreted as slippery slope arguments, yet arguments of this type need to be handled with care. It is argued that although we are urged to be especially vigilant we do not have sufficiently cogent reasons to assume that synthetic biology will cause such fundamental hazards as to warrant restricting or refraining from research in this field. (shrink)
In the paper we build up the ontology of Leśniewski’s type for formalizing synthetic propositions. We claim that for these propositions an unconventional square of opposition holds, where a, i are contrary, a, o (resp. e, i) are contradictory, e, o are subcontrary, a, e (resp. i, o) are said to stand in the subalternation. Further, we construct a non-Archimedean extension of Boolean algebra and show that in this algebra just two squares of opposition are formalized: conventional and the (...) square that we invented. As a result, we can claim that there are only two basic squares of opposition. All basic constructions of the paper (the new square of opposition, the formalization of synthetic propositions within ontology of Leśniewski’s type, the non-Archimedean explanation of square of opposition) are introduced for the first time. (shrink)
In this essay we show how certain tendencies of theself are enhanced and hindered by technologicallyorganized places. We coordinate a cognitive andbehavioral technology for the control of personalidentity with the technologically totalizedenvironments that we call synthetic sites. Weproceed by describing Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi''sstrategy for intensifying experience and organizingthe self. Walt Disney World is then considered as theexample, par excellence, of a synthetic sitethat promotes ordered experience via self-shrinkage. Finally, we reflect briefly on problems andpossibilities of human life lived in (...) a world that canbe described with increasing accuracy as anarchipelago of synthetic sites. (shrink)
Probably the most distinctive feature of synthetic biology is its being “synthetic” in some sense or another. For some, synthesis plays a unique role in the production of knowledge that is most distinct from that played by analysis: it is claimed to deliver knowledge that would otherwise not be attained. In this contribution, my aim is to explore how synthetic biology delivers knowledge via synthesis, and to assess the extent to which this knowledge is distinctly synthetic. (...) On the basis of distinctions between knowledge-how and knowledge-why, and between syntheses that succeed and syntheses that fail, I argue that the contribution of synthesis to knowledge is best understood when syntheses are construed as experimental interventions that aim at probing causal relationships between properties of the entities that are combined through these syntheses and properties of their target products. The distinctiveness of synthetic biology in its quest for knowledge through synthesis stems from its ability to sample at will a space of empirical possibilities that is not only huge but also that has been so scarcely sampled by nature. (shrink)
Ethical dilemmas raised by the use of nanotechnology in medical practice can be viewed from several perspectives: religious spiritualist perspective, the perspective of human dignity (nanotechnologies can be thought of as an affront to human dignity), the issue of controversial choice. The article aims to expose some bioethical dilemmas in using synthetic biology and nanotechnologies. Nowadays is often brought into discussion the fact it is possible to appear in the future new human species resulted not via natural selection and (...) evolution, but through the demiurgic effect of technology development in areas such as: synthetic biology, genetics, neurobiology and neurosciences, prosthesis technology and not least of artificial intelligence research. We will also refer into this paper at the possible raised challenges to ethicists who are oriented towards an ethics of species. Those challenges are raised right from the dawn of a consciousness of species, a social construction generated by changes of the meaning of belonging to humanity. During our article we argue that medical technology, especially genetics, medical assisted human reproduction and not least synthetic biology, require a rethinking ethical meanings of applying those technologies in everyday practices. (shrink)
In this article I discuss the ethics of synthetic biology from a broadly deontological perspective, evaluating its morality in terms of the integrity of nature, the dignity of life and the relationship between God and his creation. Most ethical analyses to date have been largely consequentialist in nature; they reveal a dual use dilemma, showing that synbio has potential for great good and great evil, possibly more so than any step humanity has taken before. A deontological analysis may help (...) to resolve this dilemma, by evaluating whether synbio is right or wrong in itself. I also assess whether deontology alone is a sufficient methodological paradigm for the proper evaluation of synbio ethics. (shrink)
A recurring objection to the exploration, development and deployment of radical new technologies is based on their implications with regards to social justice. In this article, using synthetic biology as an example, I explore this line of objection and how we ought to think about justice in the context of the development and introduction of radically new technologies. I argue that contrary to popular opinion, justice rarely provides a reason not to investigate, develop and introduce radical new technologies, although (...) it may have significant implications for how they ought to be introduced. In particular I focus on the time dependency of justice objections and argue that often these function by looking only at the implications of the introduction of the technology at the point of introduction, rather than the more important long-term impact on patterns of distribution and opportunity. (shrink)
The emergence of synthetic biology holds the potential of a major breakthrough in the life sciences by transforming biology into a predictive science. The dual-use characteristics of similar breakthroughs during the twentieth century have led to the application of benignly intended research in e.g. virology, bacteriology and aerobiology in offensive biological weapons programmes. Against this background the article raises the question whether the precautionary governance of synthetic biology can aid in preventing this techno-science witnessing the same fate? In (...) order to address this question, this paper proceeds in four steps: it firstly introduces the emerging techno-science of synthetic biology and presents some of its potential beneficial applications. It secondly analyses contributions to the bioethical discourse on synthetic biology as well as precautionary reasoning and its application to life science research in general and synthetic biology more specifically. The paper then identifies manifestations of a moderate precautionary principle in the emerging synthetic biology dual-use governance discourse. Using a dual-use governance matrix as heuristic device to analyse some of the proposed measures, it concludes that the identified measures can best be described as “patchwork precaution” and that a more systematic approach to construct a web of dual-use precaution for synthetic biology is needed in order to guard more effectively against the field’s future misuse for harmful applications. (shrink)
Synthetic biology emerged around 2000 as a new biological discipline. It shares with systems biology the same modular vision of organisms, but is more concerned with applications than with a better understanding of the functioning of organisms. A herald of this new discipline is Craig Venter who aims to create an artificial microorganism with the minimal genome compatible with life and to implement into it different 'functional modules' to generate new micro-organisms adapted to specific tasks. Synthetic biology is (...) based on the possibilities raised by genetic engineering, but it aims to engineer organisms, and not simply to modify them, mimicking the practice of computer engineers. Three points will be discussed: In what regard does synthetic biology represent a new epistemology of the life sciences? What are the relations between synthetic biology and evolutionary biology? What is the raison d'être of synthetic biology as a discipline independent of nanotechnologies? (shrink)
Top-down synthetic biology makes partly synthetic cells by redesigning simple natural forms of life, and bottom-up synthetic biology aims to make fully synthetic cells using only entirely nonliving components. Within synthetic biology the notions of complexity and emergence are quite controversial, but the imprecision of key notions makes the discussion inconclusive. I employ a precise notion of weak emergent property, which is a robust characteristic of the behavior of complex bottom-up causal webs, where a complex (...) causal web is one that is incompressible and its behavior cannot be derived except by crawling through all of the gory details of the interactions in the web. The central thesis of this article is that synthetic biology centrally is the activity of engineering the desired weak emergent properties of synthetic cells. Synthetic biology has many different ways to engineer desired weak emergent properties of synthetic cells, including Edisonian trial and error, standardized parts, refactoring, and reprogramming synthetic genomes. The article ends by noting two philosophical consequences of engineering weak emergence. One is epistemological: synthesis is crucial for discovering weak emergent properties. The other is metaphysical: simple life forms are nothing but complex chemical mechanisms. (shrink)
Synthetic biology is a new biotechnology that is developing at an impressive pace and attracting a considerable amount of attention from outside the scientific community as well. In this article, two main philosophically and ethically relevant characteristics of this field of research will be laid bare, namely its reliance on mechanistic metaphors to denominate simple forms of life and its appeal to the semantic field of creativity. It is argued that given these characteristics synthetic biology can be understood (...) as a prime example of a kind of human interference with reality that German philosopher Hannah Arendt called “fabrication.” This kind of self-world-relation contrasts to “action,” a relation that introduces, among other things, the idea of an inherent value of the object acted upon. Taking up this latter perspective, one scientific and two ethical challenges to synthetic biology’s take on the realm of life are identified. (shrink)
The term “synthetic biology” is a popular label of an emerging biotechnological field with strong claims to robustness, modularity, and controlled construction, finally enabling the creation of new organisms. Although the research community is heterogeneous, it advocates a common denominator that seems to define this field: the principles of rational engineering. However, it still remains unclear to what extent rational engineering—rather than “tinkering” or the usage of random based or non-rational processes—actually constitutes the basis for the techniques of (...) class='Hi'>synthetic biology. In this article, we present the results of a quantitative bibliometric analysis of the realized extent of rational engineering in synthetic biology. In our analysis, we examine three issues: (1) We evaluate whether work at three levels of synthetic biology (parts, devices, and systems) is consistent with the principles of rational engineering. (2) We estimate the extent of rational engineering in synthetic biology laboratory practice by an evaluation of publications in synthetic biology. (3) We examine the methodological specialization in rational engineering of authors in synthetic biology. Our analysis demonstrates that rational engineering is prevalent in about half of the articles related to synthetic biology. Interestingly, in recent years the relative number of respective publications has decreased. Despite its prominent role among the claims of synthetic biology, rational engineering has not yet entirely replaced biotechnological methods based on “tinkering” and non-rational principles. (shrink)
The boundary between analytic and synthetic sentences is well definable. Quine’s attempt to make it vague is based on a misunderstanding: instead of freeing semantics from shortcomings found, e.g. in Carnap’s work, Quine actually rejects semantics of natural language and replaces it by behavioristically articulated pragmatics. Semantics of natural language as a logical analysis is however possible and it can justify hard and fast lines between analyticity and syntheticity.
Synthetic biology is an increasingly high-profile area of research that can be understood as encompassing three broad approaches towards the synthesis of living systems: DNA-based device construction, genome-driven cell engineering and protocell creation. Each approach is characterized by different aims, methods and constructs, in addition to a range of positions on intellectual property and regulatory regimes. We identify subtle but important differences between the schools in relation to their treatments of genetic determinism, cellular context and complexity. These distinctions tie (...) into two broader issues that define synthetic biology: the relationships between biology and engineering, and between synthesis and analysis. These themes also illuminate synthetic biology's connections to genetic and other forms of biological engineering, as well as to systems biology. We suggest that all these knowledge-making distinctions in synthetic biology raise fundamental questions about the nature of biological investigation and its relationship to the construction of biological components and systems. (shrink)
Synthetic biology is a cutting-edge area of research that holds the promise of unprecedented health benefits. However, in tandem with these large prospective benefits, synthetic biology projects entail a risk of catastrophic consequences whose severity may exceed that of most ordinary human undertakings. This is due to the peculiar nature of synthetic biology as a ‘threshold technology’ which opens doors to opportunities and applications that are essentially unpredictable. Fears about these potentially unstoppable consequences have led to declarations (...) from civil society groups calling for the use of a precautionary principle to regulate the field. Moreover, the principle is prevalent in law and international agreements. Despite widespread political recognition of a need for caution, the precautionary principle has been extensively criticized as a guide for regulatory policy. We examine a central objection to the principle: that its application entails crippling inaction and incoherence, since whatever action one takes there is always a chance that some highly improbable cataclysm will occur. In response to this difficulty, which we call the ‘precautionary paradox,’ we outline a deliberative means for arriving at threshold of probability below which potential dangers can be disregarded. In addition, we describe a Bayesian mechanism with which to assign probabilities to harmful outcomes. We argue that these steps resolve the paradox. The rehabilitated PP can thus provide a viable policy option to confront the uncharted waters of synthetic biology research. (shrink)
This is the published version of a paper presented at the Hegel conference on the occasion of 200 years of Hegel's essay Glauben und Wissen, held in Jena in 2002. It concerns a critical Kantian account of Hegel's critique of Kant.
This paper addresses the issue of stipulation in three cases of implicit definitions (postulates of scientific terms, systems of axioms and abstraction principles). It argues that the alleged implicit definitions do not have a purely stipulative status. Stipulation of the vehicles of the implicit definitions in question should end up with true postulates. However, those postulates should not be taken to be true only in virtue of stipulation since they have extra commitments. Horwich’s worry emerges in all three kinds of (...) implicit definitions under consideration, since the existence of meanings so that the alleged postulates are true depends on extra requirements that should be fulfilled. Moreover, if Ramseyfication method is applied to the three kinds of implicit definition, they are split up into two components from which the first one is broadly factual while the second one is purely stipulative. The paper argues that their definitional task in each case should be assigned to their second component i.e. their Carnap-conditional. (shrink)
In twentieth-century Kant scholarship, few have provided an account of the analytic-synthetic distinction and of the problem of the synthetic a priori that takes into consideration the views of Kant's idealist successors such as Maimon, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. I first explain how Kant formulates the analytic-synthetic distinction in terms of the determinate-indeterminate distinction, which, in turn, is based on the distinction between general and transcendental logic. Kant's problem of the synthetic a priori , then, is (...) the problem of showing how the logical forms of judgment can be employed determinately (and not merely indeterminately). I then show that Maimon also formulates the distinction and the problem in the same way, and that his interpretation will shape how Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel each construe and address Kant's question, How are synthetic judgments possible a priori ? (shrink)
If I understand him correctly, Derek Parfit’s views place us, philosophically speaking, in a very small box. According to Parfit, normativity is an irreducible non-natural property that is independent of the human mind. That is to say, there are normative truths - truths about what we ought to do and to want, or about reasons for doing and wanting things. The truths in question are synthetic a priori truths, and accessible to us only by some sort of rational intuition. (...) Parfit supposes that if we are to preserve the irreducibility of the normative, this is just about all we can say, at least until we bring in some actual intuitions to supply the story with some content. (shrink)
I want to analyse the Quine-Carnap discussion on analyticity with regard to logical, mathematical and set-theoretical statements. In recent years, the renewed interest in Carnap’s work has shed a new light on the analytic-synthetic debate. If one fully appreciates Carnap’s conventionalism, one sees that there was not a metaphysical debate on whether there is an analytic-synthetic distinction, but rather a controversy on the expedience of drawing such a distinction. However, on this view, there can be no longer a (...) single analytic-synthetic distinction, because several kinds of statements could be regarded as analytic (L-determinate). L-equivalence between extra-logical linguistic predicates has already been heavily debated. The recent consensus states that Quine’s rejection of this analytic-synthetic is pragmatically grounded in his linguistic behaviorism. However, Carnap’s logical frameworks also contain other kinds of statements, and it is worthwhile to compare both Quine and Carnap’s grounds for considering these statements as analytic or not analytic. First, I will discuss logical statements. I will argue that Quine draws a very sharp distinction between first order logic and set theory, which should be regarded as a (pragmatic) analytic-synthetic distinction (as Quine admits in an interview, see Theoria, 40, 1994, p. 199). In fact, Quine’s major worry is whether identity statements are analytic. Second, I will discuss mathematical statements. In Carnap’s Foundations of Logic and Mathematics, it is clear that mathematical statements are analytic. For Quine, all mathematical statements are reducible to set-theoretical statements. Third, I discuss the analyticity of set-theoretical statements. For Quine, the membership predicate should be regarded as an interpreted extra-logical predicate. Quine’s work in set theory and his later philosophy of set theory naturally lead to the view that set-theoretical statements cannot be analytic. A major complication for the Quine-Carnap comparison is that Carnap has no elaborate reflections on set theory, while the influence of set theory on Quine’s views can hardly be underestimated. I conclude with some lessons for the contemporary debate on analyticity. (shrink)
The aim of this paper1 is to attack Quine’s views on the analytic-synthetic distinction (ASD), but more than half of it will be devoted to arguing that an attack is still required. This preliminary thesis is based on the claim that what Quine presents as (1) an attack on the ASD, followed by (2) some remarks about confirmation and disconfirmation, offers a more formidable obstacle to the adherent of the traditional ASD if (2) is built into (1) as a (...) positive but unwelcome theory of the.. (shrink)
This paper concentrates on some aspects of the history of the analytic-synthetic distinction from Kant to Bolzano and Frege. This history evinces considerable continuity but also some important discontinuities. The analytic-synthetic distinction has to be seen in the first place in relation to a science, i.e. an ordered system of cognition. Looking especially to the place and role of logic it will be argued that Kant, Bolzano and Frege each developed the analytic-synthetic distinction within the same conception (...) of scientific rationality, that is, within the Classical Model of Science: scientific knowledge as cognitio ex principiis . But as we will see, the way the distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments or propositions functions within this model turns out to differ considerably between them. (shrink)
This is a critical discussion of Jerry Fodor and Ernie Lepore's "Holism". The paper questions the existence of a slippery slope from some inferential liaisons are constitutive of meaning' to all inferential liaisons are constitutive of meaning'. "Interalia", it defends the existence of an analytic/synthetic distinction.
Roderick Chisholm appears to agree with Kant on the question of the existence of synthetic a priori knowledge. But Chisholm’s conception of the a priori is a traditional Aristotelian conception and differs markedly from Kant’s. Closer scrutiny reveals that their agreement on the question of the synthetic a priori is merely verbal: what Kant meant to affirm, Chisholm denies. Curiously, it looks as if Chisholm agreed on all substantive issues with the empiricist rejection of Kant’s synthetic a (...) priori. In the end, it turns out that Chisholm disagrees with both, empiricism and Kant, over a fundamental question: whether mere understanding of the contents of our thoughts must always remain within the circle of our own ideas or can provide us with genuine knowledge of matters of fact. (shrink)
Once a standard tool in the epistemologist’s kit, the analytic/synthetic distinction was challenged by Quine and others in the mid-twentieth century and remains controversial today. But although the work of a lot contemporary philosophers touches on this distinction – in the sense that it either has consequences for it, or it assumes results about it – few have really focussed on it recently. This has the consequence that a lot has happened that should affect our view of the analytic/ (...) class='Hi'>synthetic distinction, while little has been done to work out exactly what the effects are. All these features together make the topic ideal for either a survey or research seminar at the graduate level: it can provide an organising theme which justifies a spectrum of classic readings from Locke to Williamson, passing though Kant, Frege, Carnap, Quine and Kripke on the way, but it could also provide an excuse for a much more narrowly construed research seminar which studies the consequences of really contemporary philosophy of language and linguistics for the distinction. (shrink)
Two of W. V. Quine''s most familiar doctrines are his endorsement of the distinction between underdetermination and indeterminacy, and his rejection of the distinction between analytic and synthetic truths. The author argues that these two doctrines are incompatible. In terms wholly acceptable to Quine, and based on the underdetermination/indeterminacy distinction, the author draws an exhaustive and exclusive distinction between two kinds of true sentences, and then argues that this corresponds to the traditional analytic/synthetic distinction. In an appendix the (...) author expands on one aspect of the underdetermination/indeterminacy distinction, as construed here, and discusses, in passing, some of Quine''s more general views on truth. (shrink)
It is often assumed that there is a close connection between Quine's criticism of the analytic/synthetic distinction, in 'Two dogmas of empiricism' and onwards, and his thesis of the indeterminacy of translation, in Word and Object and onwards. Often, the claim that the distinction is unsound (in some way or other) is taken to follow from the indeterminacy thesis, and sometimes the indeterminacy thesis is supported by such a claim. However, a careful scrutiny of the indeterminacy thesis as stated (...) by Quine, and the varieties of the analytic/synthetic distinction, reveals that the two claims are mutually independent. Neither does the claim that the distinction is unsound follow from the indeterminacy thesis, nor that thesis from unsoundness claim, under any of the common interpretations of the analytic/synthetic distinction. (shrink)
The emergent new science of synthetic biology is challenging entrenched distinctions between, amongst others, life and non-life, the natural and the artificial, the evolved and the designed, and even the material and the informational. Whenever such culturally sanctioned boundaries are breached, researchers are inevitably accused of playing God or treading in Frankenstein’s footsteps. Bioethicists, theologians and editors of scientific journals feel obliged to provide an authoritative answer to the ambiguous question of the ‘meaning’ of life, both as a scientific (...) definition and as an explication with wider existential connotations. This article analyses the arguments mooted in the emerging societal debates on synthetic biology and the way its practitioners respond to criticism, mostly by assuming a defiant posture or professing humility. It explores the relationship between the ‘playing God’ theme and the Frankenstein motif and examines the doctrinal status of the ‘playing God’ argument. One particularly interesting finding is that liberal theologians generally deny the religious character of the ‘playing God’ argument—a response which fits in with the curious fact that this argument is used mainly by secular organizations. Synthetic biology, it is therefore maintained, does not offend so much the God of the Bible as a deified Nature. While syntheses of artificial life forms cause some vague uneasiness that life may lose its special meaning, most concerns turn out to be narrowly anthropocentric. As long as synthetic biology creates only new microbial life and does not directly affect human life, it will in all likelihood be considered acceptable. (shrink)
In this paper we examine the following problems: How many concepts of function are there in biology, social science, and technology? Are they logically related and if so, how? Which of these function concepts effect a functional explanation as opposed to a mere functional account? What are the consequences of a pluralist view of functions for functionalism? We submit that there are five concepts of function in biology, which are logically related in a particular way, and six function concepts in (...) social science and technology. Only two of them may help effect a genuine functional explanation. Finally, our synthetic approach allows us to distinguish four different varieties of functionalism in biology, psychology, social science, and technology: formalist, black boxist, adaptationist, and teleological. And only one of them is explanatory in the strong sense defended here. (shrink)
The Analytic/Synthetic distinction did not originate in Kant, but in Port-Royal's logical theory. The key for the doctrine is the explicite recognition of two different kinds of relative clauses, e.g. explicative and determinative. In the middle eighteenth century the distinction becomes a topic within the grammars. Although we can find by grammarians different criteria for the distinction, these criteria (for which we can find medieval sources) are for the main predictable from the original theory of ideas, which was presented (...) in Port-Royal's logical writings. The topic of the two relative clauses (somewhat broader than the analytic/synthetic distinction) can be used to give empirical criteria for analyticity and also for revisiting Quine's criticism of the topic. Analyticity yet appears as a master piece of classical linguistic philosophy and not as being the empty dogma of modern empiricism. (shrink)
Social scientific and humanistic research on synthetic biology has focused quite narrowly on questions of epistemology and ELSI. I suggest that to understand this discipline in its full scope, researchers must turn to the objects of the field—synthetic biological artifacts—and study them as the objects in the making of a science yet to be made. I consider one fundamentally important question: how should we understand the material products of synthetic biology? Practitioners in the field, employing a consistent (...) technological optic in the study and construction of biological systems, routinely employ the mantra ‘biology is technology’. I explore this categorization. By employing an established definition of technological artifects drawn from the philosophy of technology, I explore the appropriateness of attributing to synthetic biological artifacts the four criteria of materiality, intentional design, functionality, and normativity. I then explore a variety of accounts of natural kinds. I demonstrate that synthetic biological artifacts fit each kind imperfectly, and display a concomitant ontological ‘messiness’. I argue that this classificatory ambivalence is a product of the field’s own nascence, and posit that further work on kinds might help synthetic biology evaluate its existing commitments and practices. (shrink)
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released its first report, New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies, on December 16, 2010.1 President Barack Obama had requested this report following the announcement last year that the J. Craig Venter Institute had created the world’s first self-replicating bacterial cell with a completely synthetic genome. The Venter group’s announcement marked a significant scientific milestone in synthetic biology, an emerging field of research that aims to (...) combine the knowledge and methods of biology, engineering, and related disciplines in the design of chemically synthesized DNA to create organisms with novel or enhanced .. (shrink)
This paper contends that the first argument of Hume's "Of scepticism with regard to reason" entails that humans have no knowledge as Hume understands knowledge. In defending this claim, we also see how Hume's argument anticipates an important aspect of an extremely influential 20th century development: the collapse of the analytic/synthetic distinction.
Not all research in machine consciousness aims to instantiate phenomenal states in artefacts. For example, one can use artefacts that do not themselves have phenomenal states, merely to simulate or model organisms that do. Nevertheless, one might refer to all of these pursuits -- instantiating, simulating or modelling phenomenal states in an artefact -- as 'synthetic phenomenality'. But there is another way in which artificial agents (be they simulated or real) may play a crucial role in understanding or creating (...) consciousness: 'synthetic phenomenology'. Explanations involving specific experiential events require a means of specifying the contents of experience; not all of them can be specified linguistically. One alternative, at least for the case of visual experience, is to use depictions that either evoke or refer to the content of the experience. Practical considerations concerning the generation and integration of such depictions argue in favour of a synthetic approach: the generation of depictions through the use of an embodied, perceiving and acting agent, either virtual or real. Synthetic phenomenology, then, is the attempt to use the states, interactions and capacities of an artificial agent for the purpose of specifying the contents of conscious experience. This paper takes the first steps toward seeing how one might use a robot to specify the non- conceptual content of the visual experience of an (hypothetical) organism that the robot models. (shrink)
Artificial life can take two forms: synthetic and virtual. In principle, the materials and properties of synthetic living systems could differ radically from those of natural living systems yet still resemble them enough to be really alive if they are grounded in the relevant causal interactions with the real world. Virtual (purely computational) "living" systems, in contrast, are just ungrounded symbol systems that are systematically interpretable as if they were alive; in reality they are no more alive than (...) a virtual furnace is hot. Virtual systems are better viewed as "symbolic oracles" that can be used (interpreted) to predict and explain real systems, but not to instantiate them. The vitalistic overinterpretation of virtual life is related to the animistic overinterpretation of virtual minds and is probably based on an implicit (and possibly erroneous) intuition that living things have actual or potential mental lives. (shrink)