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Published by: mihaeladu on Nov 15, 2010
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Francis Fukuyama.
Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution
. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002. 256 pages.*
Those familiar with the work of this member of the President’s Council on Bioethics,have come to expect rigorous philosophical analysis combined with the latest socialscience data. This book – which revisits and revises the author’s “end of history” thesisfirst articulated in a 1989 book and then again in a 1999 article – does not disappoint onthat score. By the “end of history,” Fukuyama had meant that all of the alternatives toliberal democracy had failed. But there was one irrefutable argument against his originalthesis: “there could be no end of history unless there was an end of science” (p. xii).However, we are far from an end to science.
Our Posthuman Future
was written torethink advances in the life sciences and their effects on political life.The book is composed of a preface, three parts containing twelve chapters, notes, and a bibliography. I will give an overview of the book’s contents and then focus on thematerial in Part II.Part I articulates “some plausible pathways to the future” (p. 16), along with their  possible consequences, in the areas of brain research, neuropharmacology, the prolongation of life, and genetic engineering. Chapter 1 articulates the basic thesis of the book. Against Orwell’s
, Fukuyama argues that Huxley’s vision in
 Brave NewWorld 
was the more prescient: “the most significant threat posed by contemporary biotechnology is the possibility that it will alter human nature and thereby move us into a‘posthuman’ stage of history” (p. 7).
human nature is important – and Fukuyama isone of the few intellectuals today confronting this question – we will see later.Ch. 2 shows us how modern biotechnology “has
 produced effects that will haveconsequences for world politics in the coming generation, even if genetic engineeringfails to produce a single designer baby before then” (p. 19). This chapter focuses on our (growing) knowledge about genes and the related ancient question of “nature” versus“nurture” in human behavior. Fukuyama gives us the latest research on the heritability of intelligence, the relationship between genes and crime, and the role of genes in sexuality,especially in homosexuality.Ch. 3 could have been titled “From Freud to Prozac.” Here, Fukuyama singles outProzac and Ritilin, among other psychotropic drugs, as two that, coinciding with the“neurotransmitter revolution” (p. 42), have contributed to overthrowing the Freudianaccount of mental illness. These drugs are “harbingers of things to come” (p. 53), e.g.,“cosmetic pharmacology, that is, the taking of a drug not for its therapeutic value butsimply because it makes one feel ‘better than good.’” This happiness in a pill looksuncomfortably like the soma of Huxley’s
 Brave New World 
(p. 46).Ch. 4 explores the developing social and political crisis – within and between societies – brought about by biotechnology’s extension of the life span, coupled with the
de- population
explosion in the developed countries.Ch. 5 treats the “fourth pathway to the future” – human genetic engineering. HereFukuyama reviews both the possibilities and the constraints on this technology, as well asthe reasons for being cautious in thinking that significant alteration of human nature isyears away.Ch. 6 tells us, in the words of its title, “Why We Should Worry.” Fukuyama notes that“the specter of eugenics” (p. 85) has hung over the field of genetics from the beginning.
Thus, he prefers the term “breeding” (p. 88). This term “has no necessary connotationsof state sponsorship, but it is appropriately suggestive of genetic engineering’sdehumanizing potential” (p. 85). Against this “kinder, gentler eugenics” (p. 87) that will be subject to individual parental choice – from which great harms could still come about – are three categories of objections: religious, utilitarian or economic, and philosophical.Fukuyama gently dismisses the first (in his search for convincing secular arguments) asunpersuasive in a pluralistic society and recognizes the second as limited because it hasdifficulty encompassing “moral imperatives” (p. 100). The philosophical objection isdealt with in Part II.The final three chapters of Part III concern how we are to draw lines, i.e., regulate, withrespect to biotechnology, which offers a mix of goods and bads. Although Fukuyamaaffirms “
We should use the power of the state to regulate [biotechnology]
” (p. 10; 181-184), his advice that “it will not be a fruitful exercise to spend a lot of time arguing precisely where [red lines] should be placed,” does not inspire confidence. “As in other areas of regulation, many of these decisions will have to be made on a trial-and-error  basis by administrative agencies…” (p. 211).In Part II, Fukuyama attempts to ground
rights (his preferred term over the
rights) in human nature. This section is the most valuable of the book, because Fukuyama shows – if not entirely successfully – that what is at stake with biotechnology is not simply economic or physical harms, but “the very grounding of thehuman moral sense” (p. 102).After reviewing the confusion surrounding “rights talk” and the disagreement over thesources from which rights derive, Fukuyama shows why philosophy must “return to the pre-Kantian tradition that grounds rights and morality in nature” (p. 112), i.e., in someconcept of “what human beings actually are as a species” (p. 128). He also addresses the principal objection to doing this – the “naturalistic fallacy” (pp. 114-128).Fukuyama then fills out his conception of human nature and defends it against thosewho would either deny that such a thing exists or deny any uniqueness to it (e.g., “animalrights” proponents). To privilege the human species, Fukuyama argues, is not“speciesism,” but a view that resides in “a belief about human dignity that can bedefended on the basis of an empirically grounded view of human specificity” (p. 147).This dignity is rooted in “consciousness”
as it combines with
“human reason, humanlanguage, human moral choice, and human emotions in ways that are capable of  producing human politics, human art, or human religion” (p. 170). We are “complexwholes rather than the sum of simple parts.” This fact, and not any single quality such asreason by itself grounds human dignity (p. 171). What Fukuyama calls “Factor X” or thehuman essence, then, is actually “all of these qualities coming together in a humanwhole” (p. 171).The question of human dignity is important because we need to know what humanvalues to protect from any future advances in biotechnology, e.g., the problem of “geneticinequality” (pp. 151-160). Fukuyama would safeguard “the full range of our complex,evolved natures against attempts at self-modification” (p. 172). Unfortunately,Fukuyama does not extend the full range of protection to the human embryo. He writes:“From a natural-rights perspective…one could argue that it is reasonable to assign theunborn different rights from those of either infants or children” (pp. 175-176).

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