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Jürgen Habermas, The Future of Human Nature


It is getting colder and colder in Japan. Today I read Die Zukunft der menschlichen Nature: Auf dem Weg zu einer Liberalen Eugenik?, 2001 (The Future of Human Nature) by Jürgen Habermas in Japanese translation. The Japanese translation was made directly from original German. The translated text is not so easy to read because the reader have to know the outline of Habermas's philosophy to date, but the content is very interesting, hence you can enjoy his description if you like philosophical books. (He is famous for his theory of communicative action.)

The subject of this book includes ethics of biomedical technology and liberal eugenics, which is similar to the topics of the report of US president's council on bioethics published in 2003 (See my comments on this report, Dec.6 and Nov.28). Habermas says that the manipulation of fertilized eggs might modify our self-recognition as a species, and as a result, the basis of the norm that is indispensable for social integration might be fundamentally destroyed. This creates a sense of "dizzy" that we feel when the foundation beneath our feet, which have been considered to be immovable, suddenly falls down. He also uses the word, "feeling of vomiting."

The most serious problem of genetic enhancement will be that the intention of the parent(s) inevitably sneaks into their child, and as a result, the child is deprived of exploring his/her own integrated life as the real subject of his/her life. This seems to be Habermas's tentative conclusion concerning this difficult problem.

Habermas's discussion looks similar to Leon Kass's report and books on bioethics. And their philosophy is different from American "liberal bioethics." I am very interested in how philosophers outside Euro-American area think about this topic. I have tried to think in a different way from liberal bioethics (See Disability Movement and Inner Eugenic Thought, and other papers written in Japanese, and my Painless Civilization). Of course, we have a lot of liberal bioethicists and scientists in Japan, and frankly speaking, they may be the majority here. What about Korea and China, where the word "eugenic" does not necessarily have a negative nuance?

I think what is needed is "philosophy of life," and research on "philosophy of life" in various areas and countries, and to extract wisdom from philosophical discussion on life, death, and nature in contemporary society. I am going to talk about this in the future entry.

Anyway, it is interesting that Habermas, well-known European philosopher, criticized "liberal eugenics" in terms of his theory of communicative action. 20 years ago, I never imagined Habermas would talk about bioethics and gene manipulation in his book.

Photo: Doutonbori, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

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