About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

New book by John Harris

Here is a surprisingly sympathetic article in The Times about British philosophical bioethicist John Harris, who has a new book out: Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People. I say "surprisingly" because Harris takes a very strong pro-enhancement view that is likely to frighten many people.

I'm not going to say much about the book here. I've read it once already, but I need to do so again before I can comment in any cogent way. One problem is that it picks up arguments from previous publications by Harris, some of which were already familiar to me. This is inevitable when a prolific and high-profile working scholar brings out a book every few years, but it can get a bit confusing after a while remembering what he said where. Still, it's helpful to have a lot of the arguments on related topics now consolidated in one place. I am broadly on his side of this debate, of course, and his views in earlier books and other publications have influenced my own approach to bioethics; I'm certainly not batting for the same team as Leon Kass, Michael Sandel, Bill McKibben, George Annas, Jurgen Habermas, and the rest of the bioconservative line-up - all of whom Harris criticises strongly and tellingly. However, I'll wait until I have a chance to give the book a careful second reading before I really try to tease out its strengths and weaknesses.

The main thing to note is that Enhancing Evolution is now out and about, and getting some publicity - and that it is instantly one of the most important contributions to the enhancement debate. Anyone who wants to take part in that debate will need to come to grips with its arguments.


Blake Stacey said...

On a somewhat related note, this bit of George Dvorsky's review of Blade Runner made me laugh:

Sounding eerily reminiscent of conservative bioethicst and thanatophile Leon Kass, Tyrell tries to console Batty by telling him, "The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. And you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy. Revel in your time!"

I hadn't thought of that comparison before.

Toothy said...

I find the idea of genetic 'enhancements' a bit frightening, only due to the fact that we would be altering are human form at a very minute level. Such changes could have sweeping impact on so many levels. It really is a bit scary.

- Dave
Author: What You Should Know about Gum Disease