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BIOETHICS, THE SCIENCE OF SURVIVAL* VAN RENSSELAER POTTER\ Biology and Wisdom in Action In the past ethics has been considered the special province ofthe humanities in a liberal arts coUege curriculum. Ithas beentaught along withlogic, esthetics, and metaphysics, as a branch ofphilosophy. Ethics constitutes the study of human values, the ideal human character, morals, actions, and goals inlargelyhistorical terms; butabove all ethics impliesaction accordingto moral standards. What we must now face up to is that human ethics cannot be separated from a realistic understanding of ecology in the broadest sense. Ethical valuescannot be separated from biologicalfacts.,We are in great need of a land ethic, a wUdlife ethic, a population ethic, a consumption ethic, an urban ethic, an international ethic, a geriatric ethic, and so on. AU of these problems caU for actions that are based on values and biological facts. All ofthem involve bioethics, and survival ofthe total ecosystem is the test ofthe value system. In this perspective, the phrase "survival ofthe fittest" is simplistic and parochial. Mankind is urgently in need of new wisdom that wiU provide the "knowledge of how to use knowledge" for man's survival and for improvement in the quality oflife. This concept ofwisdom as a guide for action—the knowledge of how to use knowledge for the social goodmight be called "the science of survival," surely the prerequisite to improvement in the quality oflife. I take the position that the science ofsurvival must be buüt on the science ofbiology, enlarged beyond the traditional boundaries to include the most essential elements of the social sciences and the humanities with emphasis on phUosophy in the strict sense, meaning "love ofwisdom." A science ofsurvival mustbe more than * Adapted from chap, ? of"Bioethics: Bridge to the Future" by Van R. Potter; to be published by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NewJersey, 1971, and printed here with their permission. t Address: McArdle Laboratory, Medical School, University ofWisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 537°6. 127 science alone, and I therefore propose the term "bioethics" in order to emphasize the two most important ingredients in achieving the new wisdom that is so desperately needed: biological knowledge and human values. In this age ofspecialization we seem to have lost contact with the daUy reminders that must have driven home the truth to our ancestors: man cannot live without harvesting plants or killing animals. Ifplants wither and die and animals faU to reproduce, man will sicken and die and fail to maintain his kind. As individuals we cannot afford to leave our destiny in the hands ofscientists, engineers, technologists, and politicians who have forgotten orwhoneverknewthese simple truths. In ourmodernworldwe have botanists who study plants and zoologists who study animals, but most of them are specialists who do not deal with the ramifications of their limited knowledge. We need biologists today who respect the fragüe web oflife andwho can broaden theirknowledge toincludethenatureof man and his relation to the biological and physical worlds. We need biologists who can teU us what we can and must do to survive, and what we cannot and must notdo ifwe hope to maintain and improve the quality oflife during the next three decades. The fate ofthe world rests on the integration, preservation, and extension ofthe knowledge that is possessed by a relatively smaUnumber ofmen, who are onlyjust beginning to realize how inadequate is their strength, how enormous the task. Every coUege student owes it to himselfand his chüdren to learn as much as possible of whatthesemenhaveto offer, tochaUengethem, to meldbiologicalknowledge with whatever additional ingredient they are able to master, and to become, iftheir talents are adequate, the leaders of tomorrow. From such a pooling ofknowledge and values may come a new kind of scholar or statesman who has mastered what I have referred to as "bioethics." No individual could possibly master aU ofthe components ofthis branch of knowledge,just as no one todayknows aUofzoology or aUofchemistry, but what is needed is a new discipline to provide models oflife styles for people who can communicate with each other and propose and explain the new public policies that could provide a "bridge to the future." The new disciplines wiU be forged in the heat oftoday's crisis problems, aU...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 127-153
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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