Re: The "questionable search for immortality"

From: Russell Blackford (
Date: Sat Aug 11 2001 - 03:28:49 MDT

Mark said

>The classical liberal ideal usually is expressed as two parts, (1) the idea
>that the state ought to remain morally neutral in matters of morality (and
>the pursuit of our own individual conception of human flourishing) and (2)
>so long as the individual does not, in Mill's words, "make himself a
>nuisance to other people" and "short of injury to others". (Chapter 3 On

Yes it is.

>I know you are aware of this,

And yes I am <g>.

>but I wonder if Kass makes any
>arguments that invoke the second clause. Kass aside, do you see the coming
>debate focused on 1 or 2? (If I were against transhumanism I think I would
>work on 2, after all, many of us are all too cognizant of the potential for
>unintended consequence of technologies, for example, black goo and
>unfriendly AI etc.)

Okay. In fact, Kass does not accept that (1) should apply anymore in the
area of reproductive technology/biotechnology. I don't think he ever invokes
(2) and he does not believe he should have to.

Here's what he says (among other things) about a liberal or libertarian
approach to human cloning:

"...considering reproduction (and the intimate relations of family life!)
primarily under the political-legal, adversarial, and individualistic notion
of rights can only undermine the private yet fundamentally social,
cooperative, and duty-laden character of child-bearing, child-rearing, and
their bond to the covenant of marriage."

The thrust of his arguments in the works I've read is not that cloning etc
will cause a nuisance to other people or actual harm to other people. It is
that (1) no longer applies to the "post-human" technologies that he refers
to (ie the pill, IVF, etc, etc), and it is time for the state to take a
moral stand. The nearest he comes is that the society that will be created
will be an evil one, but not evil in the sense of the sort of harm or
nuisance that you have in mind (or that Mill had in mind).

As for (2), I for one am always open to argument that something should be
prohibited or restricted in some way for *those* reasons. Despite my
pro-tech bias, I can see that there might be situations arousing
considerable but legitimate differences of opinion even among

However, thinkers such as Leon Kass, Margaret Somerville, Brian Appleyard
and many others less well known are quite happy to tear up the classical
liberal ideal entirely, at least in the area of bioethics. I have no doubt
that there'll be a similar batch of social conservative thinkers, and more
than a few left-wing thinkers, who'll take a similar attitude to powerful
developments in information technologies. The ill-fated Communications
Decency Act gave us only the mildest foretaste of the moral panics to come.

So, to sum up, even Kass aside, there's going to be a helluva fight
protecting (1) above.

Again, we have to take the cultural offensive (to borrow a phrase from
Natasha), though - yet again - we must do so in a sweet and reasonable
style. I continue to think that we should go out of our way not to alienate
the public by insensitivity, given how much our ideas will themselves have a
huge alienation potential. What this means for individuals and how they
present themselves, I'll leave to individuals, though I'm sure many of us
would appreciate the sharing of suggestions.


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