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)
The value of life can be viewed from moral, biologic, and economic perspectives. In connection with the development of genetics, each of these perspectives has gained importance throughout history. Whereas agricultural genetics has always been directed towards having an economic impact, from the beginning genetics research in humans has focused on all dimensions of the value of life. Today, health insurance, employers, politicians, and public health scientists view genetics research as one of the key disciplines to (...) predict costs and economic values of human beings. However, the reasoning cannot go without considering biologic health risks and moral values to the same extent. This paper examines the historical dimensions of current debates surrounding genetics and the value of life. Thus, the paper is conceptual and offers a heuristic model and analytical categories for answering the question, “what is so intriguing about genetics that it can be closely connected with different value concepts,” although the consideration of the moral, biologic, or economic value of life may lead to completely different ideas of man and society. A special emphasis will be placed on the use of genetics for the purposes of the eugenics movement. During the heyday of eugenics, the economic value of life changed the understanding of the moral value, as well as the biologic value of life by referring to genetic principles. It will be argued that an intended intertwinement of the different dimensions of the concept of “value” on the one hand increased the impact of genetics as a key discipline of the eugenics movement, and on the other hand had a lasting impact on debates about the economic usefulness of genetics as a predictive, prophylactic medical discipline. (shrink)
Synthetic biology can be understood as expanding the abilities and aspirations of genetic engineering. Nonetheless, whereas genetic engineering has been subject to criticism due to its endangering biodiversity, synthetic biology may actually appear to prove advantageous for biodiversity. After all, one might claim, synthesizing novel forms of life increases the numbers of species present in nature and thus ought to be ethically recommended. Two perspectives on how to spell out the conception of intrinsic value of biodiversity are examined (...) in order to assess this line of thought. At the cost of introducing two separate capacities of human knowledge acquisition, the ‘admiration stance’ turns out to reject outright the assumption of a synthetic species' intrinsic value and of an imperative to create novel species. The ‘kinship stance’ by contrast does ascribe value to both synthetic and natural species and organisms. Nonetheless, while from this perspective creating novel species may become an ethical demand under certain conditions, it favours changing organisms by getting in contact with them rather than synthesizing them. It is concluded that neither the admiration nor the kinship stance warrants a supposed general moral obligation to create novel species to increase biodiversity. (shrink)
For about five decades the phrase "sanctity-of-life" has been part of the Anglo-American biomedical ethical discussion related to abortion and end-of-life questions. Nevertheless, the concept's origin and meaning are unclear. Much controversy is based on the mistaken assumption that the concept denotes the absolute value of human life and thus dictates a strict prohibition on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. In this paper, I offer an analysis of the religious and philosophical history of the idea of "sanctity-of- (...) class='Hi'>life." Drawing on biblical texts and interpretation as well as Kant's secularization of the concept, I argue that "sanctity" has been misunderstood as an ontological feature of biological human life, and instead locate the idea within the historical virtue-ethical tradition, which understands sanctification as a personal achievement through one's own actions. (shrink)
Life insurance settlements, or life settlements, are life insurance policies owned by investor-beneficiaries on the lives of unrelated individuals. With life settlements, investors make substantial payments to the insured individuals upon purchasing such policies, pay any remaining premius, and collect the death benefits upon the demise of the insured individuals. Transactions involving life settlements seem poised to become a major source of profits for investment banks, comparable in dollar amount to subprime mortgages. With life (...) settlements, the insured individuals suffer no immediate harm, and the sale of a policy an individual owns is permissible under current law. Nevertheless, moral questions can be posed about the social values expressed by these practices, the effect of these practices on the virtue of charity, and the overall loss of social utility that will result from life settlements. We consider life settlements from utilitarian and libertarian perspectives, and then consider the effects of life settlements on social values and on individual character. On balance, we favor legislative changes in insurance and tax laws to discourage life settlements, and argue that certain forms of life settlements should be banned outright. (shrink)
: The concept of the person has come to be intimately connected with questions about the value of life. It is applied to those sorts of beings who have some special value or moral importance and where we need to prioritize the needs or claims of different sorts of individuals. "Person" is a concept designating individuals like us in some important respects, but possibly including individuals who are very unlike us in other respects. What are these respects (...) and why are they important? This paper sets out to answer these questions and to develop a coherent and useful concept of the person. (shrink)
The notion of the value of life is often invoked in discussions regarding medical care for the sick and the dying. This theme has figured in arguments about medical ethics for decades, but many of the phrases associated with this concept have received little serious scrutiny. It is true that some philosophers have declared a few commonly used phrases such as “the sanctity of life,” “the infinite value of life,” and “the value of (...) class='Hi'>life itself” to be unclear at best or misguided at worst. Their hasty dismissal of these phrases, however, is not the end of the story. I generally agree with this philosophical judgment but for reasons very different from those typically given by others. Moreover, the reasons I wish to .. (shrink)
Low opportunity cost, weak influence of quality of life in the face of death, the social value of life extension to others, shifting psychological reference points, and hope have been proposed as factors to explain why people apparently perceive marginal life extension at the end of life to have disproportionately greater value than its length. Such value may help to explain why medical spending to extend life at the end of life (...) is as high as it is, and the various factors behind this value might provide normative rationale for that spending. Upon critical analysis, however, most of these factors turn out to be questionable or incompletely conceived; this includes hope, which is examined here in special detail. These factors help to explain complexity and nuance in the normative issues, but they do not provide adequate justification for spending as high as it often is. In any case, two additional factors must be added to the descriptive explanation of high spending, and they throw its normative justification into further doubt: the “insurance effect” and provider-created demand. Overall, the perception of especially high value of life at the end of life provides some normative justification for high spending, but seldom strong justification, and not for spending as high as it often is. (shrink)
The recent ruling from England on the case of M is one of very few worldwide to consider whether life-sustaining treatment, in the form of clinically assisted nutrition and hydration, should continue to be provided to a patient in a minimally conscious state. Formally concerned with the English law pertaining to precedent autonomy (specifically advance decision-making) and the best interests of the incapacitated patient, the judgment issued in M's case implicitly engages with three different accounts of the value (...) of human life, which respectively emphasise its self-determined, intrinsic and instrumental value. The judge appeared to be most persuaded by the intrinsic value of life and he concluded that treatment ought to continue. Assessing whether his approach or conclusion were ethically appropriate involves significant substantive and evidential questions regarding where the burden of proof should lie and what standard of proof should be required when decisions are to be made about the fates of patients inhabiting ‘twilight worlds’. (shrink)
Much of my working life has been devoted to trying to get across the point that we urgently need to bring about a revolution in the aims and methods of academic inquiry, so that the basic aim becomes to seek and promote wisdom rather than just acquire knowledge.
A principle claiming equal entitlement to continued life has been strongly defended in the literature as a fundamental social value. We refer to this principle as ‘equal value of life'. In this paper we argue that there is a general incompatibility between the equal value of life principle and the weak Pareto principle and provide proof of this under mild structural assumptions. Moreover we demonstrate that a weaker, age-dependent version of the equal value (...) of life principle is also incompatible with the weak Pareto principle. However, both principles can be satisfied if transitivity of social preference is relaxed to quasi-transitivity. Footnotes1 The authors are grateful to Luc Bovens, Kristian Schultz Hansen, Søren Holm, Franz Huber, Wiebke Kuklys, Gabriella Pigozzi, and two anonymous referees for detailed and very helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. Any errors and shortcomings are the responsibility of the authors alone. (shrink)
It is a common pessimistic worry among both philosophers and non-philosophers that our lives, viewed sub specie aeternitatis, are meaningless given that they make neither a noticeable nor lasting impact from this vast, cosmic perspective. The preferred solution for escaping this kind of pessimism is to adopt a different measure by which to evaluate life’s meaningfulness. One of two primary routes is often taken here. First, one can retreat back to the sub specie humanitatis perspective, and argue that (...) class='Hi'>life is meaningful only when viewed within the local context of human values, cares, and concerns. Or, second, one can distinguish between perspectives and standards for meaningfulness, arguing that the latter are independent of the former and are the most appropriate means by which evaluations of life’s meaningfulness are made. Importantly, none of these issues can be sufficiently addressed without first answering a prior question, and one that is surprisingly under-addressed in the literature: What is the sub specie aeternitatis perspective? Unfortunately, many philosophers who employ this perspective do so without carefully defining or clarifying it, or, if they do clarify what it means, they only note its time and spatial components. I will argue that, in addition to these components, this perspective includes something like a modal component (following Thomas Nagel), and an ontological Normative component. I will then apply this more nuanced understanding of the sub specie aeternitatis perspective to the question of whether perspectives can be distinguished from standards for meaningfulness. (shrink)
The value of a statistical life (VSL) is an important tool for cost?benefit analysis of regulatory policies that concern fatality risks. Its proponents claim that it measures people's risk preferences, and that VSL therefore is a tool of vicarious governance. This paper criticizes the revealed preference method for measuring VSL. It specifies three minimal conditions for vicarious governance: sensitivity, fairness and hypothetical compromise, and shows that the VSL measure, in its common application in policy formation and analysis, violates (...) these conditions. It therefore concludes that the revealed preference VSL measure, in its current form, is not a tool of vicarious governance. (shrink)
This paper explores the possible interpretations—and the implications of those interpretations—of a comment about the importance of art made by Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972), later the first Japanese Nobel laureate for literature: that “Looking at old works of art is a matter of life and death.” (In 1949 Kawabata visited Hiroshima in his capacity as president of the Japan literary society PEN to inspect the damage caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima that helped end World War II. On his (...) way back to his home in Kamakura he stopped in Kyoto. He came under severe criticism for “sight-seeing” at such a time. This comment was his response.) The introduction explains why we should take him seriously as a commentator on art. The body of the paper examines why our looking at art might be more, not less, important after the post-War situation, the kinds of art Kawabata might have meant, why some possibilities are more likely than others, and how they differ in what they offer us, and the value of art under conditions of trauma and mass trauma. (shrink)
Although there is a significant number of books and essays in which Aquinas's thought is examined in some detail, there are still many aspects of his writings that remain unknown to those outside the field of Thomistic studies; or which are generally misunderstood. An example is Aquinas's account of the origins of individual human life. This is the subject of a chapter in a recent book by Robert Pasnau on Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature (Cambridge: CUP, 2001). Since there (...) will be readers whose only knowledge of the issues in question will come from Pasnau's account, and since that account is contentious in substance, and advanced in advocacy of a particular moral interest, it is necessary to provide another, and, we believe, more credible account of the issue of when human life begins, as this may be determined on the basis of known empirical facts and Aquinas's metaphysics, and a more accurate representation of how (and how extensively) this matter has been treated hitherto. The morality of abortion turns on two important sets of issues: the first metaphysical, concerning the beginnings of human life and the specific status of the embryo; the second, ethical, having to do with the nature and scope of value and associated moral requirements. Besides engaging in exegesis we address both issues in philosophical terms. (shrink)
While the notion of establishing a value for human life may be uncomfortable for some, we argue that it is a fundamental requirement for many aspects of public policy. We compare a number of approaches which have been traditionally relied on to make estimations. Also, we provide an exercise which provides an unusual, but we hope provocative, perspective on the evaluation of human life.
The essay combines a specific and a more general theme. In attacking ‘the doctrine of the sanctity of human life’ Singer takes himself thereby to be opposing the conviction that human life has special value. I argue that this conviction goes deep in our lives in many ways that do not depend on what Singer identifies as central to that ‘doctrine’, and that his attack therefore misses its main target. I argue more generally that Singer’s own moral (...) philosophy affords only an impoverished and distorted sense of the value of human life and human beings. In purporting to dig below the supposedly illusion–ridden surface of our thinking about value, Singer in fact often leads us away from the robust terrain of our lived experience into rhetorical, and sometimes brutal, fantasy. (shrink)
Many scholars have argued that unity of humankind can be established on the basis of some basic or core human values. Instead of engaging in a comparative empirical research, compiling lists of core values derived from different cultures, discuss their relevance for human fellowship, I examine the simple values of life that during the 1980s united people in Poland and made them to form the powerful civic movement, which was Solidarity. Today we live in a world that is fundamentally (...) different from that before 1989. We are no longer divided by a global ideological struggle between communism and liberal democracy. The key issue today is not a bipolar division but globalization. My thesis is today we need a new Global Solidarity and that this movement can take lessons from Poland’s Solidarity. It should not be grounded in any ideology, but in inclusive values that do not divide but can potentially unite all human beings, and these can be derived from basic human needs. In short, Global Solidarity should be based on what I call the “righteousness of life.” It can be achieved if there is a growing recognition of what is right for life and a growing interest in protecting and enhancing life. (shrink)
We ordinarily think that, keeping all else equal, a life that improves is better than one that declines. However, it has proven challenging to account for such value judgments: some, such as Fred Feldman and Daniel Kahneman, have simply denied that these judgments are rational, while others, such as Douglas Portmore, Michael Slote, and David Velleman, have proposed justifications for the judgments that appear to be incomplete or otherwise problematic. This article identifies problems with existing accounts and suggests (...) a novel alternative theory: what best accounts for our preference for an uphill over a downhill life (and many other episodes) is that losses of momentary value are themselves bad and gains in momentary value are themselves good. (shrink)
In this essay, I provide evidence that a new generation of prochoice advocates wishes to move away from defending abortion rights via the view that fetal life has little or no value (for example, as Mary Anne Warren does in her “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion”) and toward a more complex view of abortion rights. This newer view simultaneously grants that fetuses are more than simply “clumps of cells,” that they are, to some extent, entities (...) that possess some degree of value, and also that women still have the right to decide whether they wish to continue a pregnancy (for example, as can be found in the writings of Rosalind Hursthouse, Judith Jarvis Thomson, and Margaret Olivia Little). Prima facie, this may sound like an impossible task—an instance of “having your cake and eating it too”—but I will show throughout my paper that, and how, such a task can indeed be accomplished. (shrink)
The Urgent Need for an Intellectual Revolution For much of my working life (from 1972 onwards) I have argued, in and out of print, that we need to bring about a revolution in the aims and methods of science – and of academic inquiry more generally. Instead of giving priority to the search for knowledge, academia needs to devote itself to seeking and promoting wisdom by rational means, wisdom being the capacity to realize what is of value in (...)life, for oneself and others, wisdom thus including knowledge, understanding and technological know-how, but much else besides. A basic task ought to be to help humanity learn how to create a better world. (shrink)
: It is possible and necessary to compare stretches of human life with other goods, such as the good of conserving resources for others. A minute of human life is not of infinite value; all else being equal, a minute of life is less valuable than 10 years of the same life. Nevertheless, this ability to evaluate human life does not necessarily lead to total commodification of human life.
I evaluate four historically precedented tests for what makes a life worth living: (1) The Suicide Test (Camus), (2) The Recurrence Test (Schopenhauer and Nietzsche), (3) The Extra Life Test (Cicero and Hume), and (4) The Preferring Not to Have Been Test (Job and Williams). I argue that all four fail and tentatively defend the heuristic value of a fifth, The Pre-Existence Test for what makes a life worth living: (5) A life worth living is (...) one that a benevolent caretaker with foreknowledge would allow. A life worth avoiding is one that a benevolent caretaker would disallow. This test usefully tracks the general extension of the concept of what makes a life worth living. I consider three objections and note that there appears to be an indeterminate middle category of lives worth neither. Ultimately, I argue that any plausible test will risk circularity or will require a theory of worth to be viable. (shrink)
In 1975 E. O. Wilson called for biologists to appropriate ethics.1 Few philosophers worried deeply about this potential usurpation because they felt firmly ensconced on the other side of the Humean wall from the biologists. Science can provide neither guidance (“oughts”) nor values. Perhaps nowhere is this more clear than in the crowning question of ethics; namely, what is the meaning of life? Since evolution proposes an ateleological account of the natural world, biologists can dismiss the question to which (...) we all desperately want an answer as a category mistake. If pressed to understand the question metaphorically, biologists begrudgingly reply that the meaning of life is to get as much of your genetic material .. (shrink)
This paper argues that the Quality Adjusted Life Year or QALY is fatally flawed as a way of priority setting in health care and of dealing with the problem of scarce resources. In addition to showing why this is so the paper sets out a view of the moral constraints that govern the allocation of health resources and suggests reasons for a new attitude to the health budget.
This paper is primarily about the personal and public responsibilities of ethics and of ethicists in speaking, writing and commenting publicly about issues of ethical, political and social significance. The paper argues that any such interventions are ‘willy-nilly’, actually or potentially, in the public domain in ways that make any self-conscious decision about intended publics or audiences problematic. In it is argued that a famous, and hitherto useful, distinction relating to the ethical limitations on freedom of speech which we owe (...) to John Stuart Mill may, because of the emergence of ‘the cloud’ have become redundant or inoperable. (shrink)
There is an apparent tension between two familiar platitudes about the meaning of life: (i) that 'meaning' in this context means 'value', and (ii) that such meaning might be ineffable. I suggest a way of trying to bring these two claims together by focusing on an ideal of a meaningful life that fuses both the axiological and semantic senses of 'significant'. This in turn allows for the possibility that the full significance of a life might be (...) ineffable not because its axiological significance is ineffable, but because its semantic significance is ineffable in virtue of the signification relation itself being unsignifiable. I then explore to what degree this claim about signification can be adequately defended. (shrink)
The book is a contribution to the study of values, as they affect both our personal and our public life. It defends the view that values are necessarily universal, on the ground that that is a condition of their intelligibility. It does, however, reject most common conceptions of universality, like those embodied in the writings on human rights. It aims to reconcile the universality of value with (a) the social dependence of value and (b) the centrality to (...) our life of deep attachments to people and countries alike. Building from there, the book explores personal love, the value of life, and the fundamental duty of respect for people. (shrink)
Human beings have the unique ability to consciously reflect on the nature of the self. But reflection has its costs. We can ask what the self is, but as David Hume pointed out, the self, once reflected upon, may be nowhere to be found. The favored view is that we are material beings living in the material world. But if so, a host of destabilizing questions surface. If persons are just a sophisticated sort of animal, then what sense is there (...) to the idea that we are free agents who control our own destinies? What makes the life of any animal, even one as sophisticated as Homo sapiens, worth anything? What place is there in a material world for God? And if there is no place for a God, then what hold can morality possibly have on us--why isn't everything allowed? Flanagan's collection of essays takes on these questions and more. He continues the old philosophical project of reconciling a scientific view of ourselves with a view of ourselves as agents of free will and meaning-makers. But to this project he brings the latest insights of neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychiatry, exploring topics such as whether the conscious mind can be explained scientifically, whether dreams are self-expressive or just noise, the moral socialization of children, and the nature of psychological phenomena such as multiple personality disorder and false memory syndrome. What emerges from these explorations is a liberating vision which can make sense of the self, agency, character transformation, and the value and worth of human life. Flanagan concludes that nothing about a scientific view of persons must lead to nihilism. (shrink)
In the first part of this article, I raisequestions about Dworkin''s theory of theintrinsic value of life and about the adequacyof his proposal to understand abortion in termsof different ways of valuing life. In thesecond part of the article, I consider hisargument in ``The Philosophers'' Brief on AssistedSuicide'''', which claims that the distinctionbetween killing and letting die is morallyirrelevant, the distinction between intendingand foreseeing death can be morally relevantbut is not always so. I argue that thekilling/letting die (...) distinction can be relevantin the context of assisted suicide, but alsoshow when it is not. Then I consider why theintention/foresight distinction can be morallyirrelevant and conclude by presenting analternative argument for physician-assistedsuicide. (shrink)
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It may seem paradoxical to speak of the âgoodlifeâ for demented elderly. Many people consider dementia to be a life-wrecking disease and nursing homes to be terrible places. Still, it is relevant to ask how we can make life as good as possible for demented nursing home residents. This paper explores what three standard philosophical accounts of well-being â subjective preference theory, objectivist theories, and hedonism â have to say about the good life for demented people. It (...) is concluded that the relevant differences between the various philosophical theories manifest themselves not so much in their general account of the substantial content of âthe good lifeâ but in a number of specific controversies. These concern the nature of well-being, the necessity of endorsement by the patient, the value of experience and the need for experiences to be rooted in reality. Moreover, it is argued that further research should pay detailed attention to the process of dementia and to the effects of this process on patients' identities, self-conceptions, capacities, preferences, values and the like, and that a narrative approach which incorporates the factor time may offer a more comprehensive account of the good life for demented elderly. (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)
Donaldson and Dunfee (1999) suggest in a brief discussion that a manager may in some cases rely on his or her own values inmaking organizational decisions. Our paper examines the role of diversity in values in an organizational context. Our central contentionis that value diversity among managers, employees, and other stakeholders on dimensions such as prudence-boldness, clarity-flexibility, and rigor-mercy is highly useful for an organization. We introduce nontechnical models of individual and board decision-making in which value diversity cuts (...) across group interests that would otherwise control the decision. In these models, decision-makers who are influenced by values such as prudence or boldness as well as by their group interests are more likely to avoid suboptimal decisions, because their weaker but not their more intense group interests are likely to be overridden by their cross-cutting value inclinations. (shrink)
This study examines the system-deciding principle of economic rationality for its logical soundness and effects in global practice. Analysis demonstrates the fallacious structure of the underlying assumptions of homo economicus across theories and institutions, and explains how cumulative destruction of global economic, social, and ecological life systems follows from its life-blind mechanism. Higher-order concepts of life-capital, life-value efficiency, and life-good supply and demand are then defined to bring economic rationality into coherence with terrestrial and (...) human life requirements. (shrink)