NanoEthics 14 (1):71-91 (2020)

Authors
Massimiliano Simons
University of Ghent
Abstract
A recurrent theme in the characterization of synthetic biology is the role of engineering. This theme is widespread in the accounts of scholars studying this field and the biologists working in it, in those of the biologists themselves, as well as in policy documents. The aim of this article is to open this black-box of engineering that is supposed to influence and change contemporary life sciences. Too often, both synthetic biologists and their critics assume a very narrow understanding of what engineering is about, resulting in an unfruitful debate about whether synthetic biology possesses genuine engineering methodologies or not. By looking in more detail to the diversity of engineering conceptions in debates concerning synthetic biology, a richer perspective can be developed. In this article, I will examine five influential ways in which engineering is understood in these debates, namely engineering as applied science, as rational methodology, context-sensitive practice, cunning activity or design. The claim is first of all thus to argue that engineering must not be seen as something stable or characterized by a fixed essence. It rather has multiple meanings and interpretations. Secondly, the claim is that most of the debates on synthetic biology cannot be indifferent towards the question which conception of engineering is at play, since the specific questions and concerns that pop up depend to a great extent on the precise conception of engineering one has in account. Many of the existing debates around synthetic biology can thus be reinterpreted and readdressed once one is aware of which conception of engineering is at play.
Keywords Synthetic biology  Engineering
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DOI 10.1007/s11569-019-00348-1
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References found in this work BETA

The Sciences of the Artificial.Herbert A. Simon - 1969 - [Cambridge, M.I.T. Press.
The Mismeasure of Machine: Synthetic Biology and the Trouble with Engineering Metaphors.Maarten Boudry & Massimo Pigliucci - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (4):660-668.
Thinking through Technology: The Path between Engineering and Philosophy.Carl Mitcham - 1996 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 27 (2):359-360.

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Citations of this work BETA

De nieuwe poortwachters van de waarheid.Massimiliano Simons - 2020 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 1 (82):33-56.

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