The Ethics and Ontology of Synthetic Biology: a Neo-Aristotelian Perspective

NanoEthics 14 (1):43-55 (2020)
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Abstract

This article is concerned with two interrelated questions: what, if anything, distinguishes synthetic from natural organisms, and to what extent, if any, creating the former is of moral significance. These are ontological and ethical questions, respectively. As the title indicates, I address both from a broadly neo-Aristotelian perspective, i.e. a teleological philosophy of life and virtue ethics. For brevity’s sake, I shall not argue for either philosophical position at length, but instead hope to demonstrate their legitimacy through their explanatory power. I firstly argue that synthetic organisms differ in kind from natural organisms and machines, and differ only by degree from genetically modified organisms. I then suggest that this is nevertheless sufficient to give us specific ethical reservations about synthetic biology: namely, that more than any other widely used biotechnology, it is characterised by a drive to mastery that stands opposed to due appreciation of the giftedness of life.

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