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Hans Jonas Ethics and Biogenetic Art IN A FORMER ARTICLE IN THIS JOURNAL, I DWELT AT SOME LENGTH ON the tendency o f the fruits o f technological invention to acquire a force o f their own and, as it were, m ake them selves independent o f their m akers (Jonas, 1982). “Once developed by doing in the small, they have a way o f enforcing their em ploym ent in the large and ever larger and m aking that em ploym ent an incessant need o f life.” In ascribing to the creations o f technology a “life o f their own,” I was speaking figu­ ratively, and exaggerating som ew hat. Strictly speaking, w hat I said referred not to the creations them selves, the concrete objects produced, but to the process o f their creation and utilization, an abstract system function that acts through m an. As long as the creations o f technol­ ogy—tools in the broadest sense—are inanim ate objects, as has always been the case hitherto, it is still “m an” who has to activate them , who can turn them on and off at will, and who also chooses to bring about their further developm ent, that is, technological progress, by m eans o f new invention, even though this choice or will is, de facto, largely deprived o f its options and pushed—by the aforem entioned com pul­ sions o f current use—in the single direction o f going ahead. “Man” in this context m eans such abstract notions as “society,” “the economy,” “politics,” “nation-state,” etc., yet the arche kineseos, the prim e cause of m ovem ent, is still to be found in “m an” and, ultimately, in actual indi­ viduals. Thus, however true it may be that the collective-technological “sorcerer’s apprentice” that we are can no longer get rid of the spirits he has sum moned, nevertheless it would still be theoretically possible ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN SOCIAL RESEARCH VOL. 52, NO. 3(AUTUMN 1985) social research Vol 71 : No 3 : Fall 2 0 0 4 569 for the old master to enter at any time and command, “In the closet, / broom! broom! / As you were,” and there they would stand motionless (Goethe, Der Zauberlehrling (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”)). But not even the old sorcerer can call this anymore ifthe creations of technology are no longer brooms but new living creatures. Such crea­ tures, as Aristotle said long ago, contain within themselves the origin and principle of their movement, and this movement includes not merely their continued functioning—their living behavior—but also their propagation and, through the chain of reproduction, even their possible further development into new forms. In such creations—now true creatures, with which he has qualitatively surpassed his previous creativity in the inanimate domain—homofaber forgoes being the sole causal agency. The work of his hands takes on a life of its own and inde­ pendent force, no longer figuratively but literally. On this threshold of the new art, the potential fountainhead of extended evolutions, it is fitting that man should pause a moment for fundamental reflection. What we are talking about is the planned creation ofnew forms of life by direct intervention in the molecularly encoded hereditary blue­ print of given species. This is not the same as the breeding of domestic animals and plants from wild ancestor forms, which, as a mixture of art and luck, has been practiced worldwide since the dawn of agriculture. That breeding operates via the phenotypes and relies on the intrinsic whims of the germ substance as they happen to manifest themselves in this or that somatic property. The natural variability of reproduction is used to obtain the desired characteristics from the original genotype by selection of the phenotypes over the generations, that is, to increase these characteristics by summation of the small, spontaneous devia­ tions in the preferred direction. This is artificially steered and acceler­ ated evolution, in which deliberate stock selection takes the place of the statistically slow-working selection mechanics of nature and enables forms to come to existence which nature would not permit, since they thrive only under cultivation...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 569-582
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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