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The Case against Perfection - Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering (Anglais) Broché – 29 septembre 2009

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Listen to a short interview with Michael Sandel. Host: Chris Gondek. Producer: Heron & Crane. Breakthroughs in genetics present us with a promise and a predicament. The promise is that we will soon be able to treat and prevent a host of debilitating diseases. The predicament is that our newfound genetic knowledge may enable us to manipulate our nature - to enhance our genetic traits and those of our children. Although most people find at least some forms of genetic engineering disquieting, it is not easy to articulate why. What is wrong with re-engineering our nature? "The Case against Perfection" explores these and other moral quandaries connected with the quest to perfect ourselves and our children. Michael Sandel argues that the pursuit of perfection is flawed for reasons that go beyond safety and fairness. The drive to enhance human nature through genetic technologies is objectionable because it represents a bid for mastery and dominion that fails to appreciate the gifted character of human powers and achievements.Carrying us beyond familiar terms of political discourse, this book contends that the genetic revolution will change the way philosophers discuss ethics and will force spiritual questions back onto the political agenda. In order to grapple with the ethics of enhancement, we need to confront questions largely lost from view in the modern world. Since these questions verge on theology, modern philosophers and political theorists tend to shrink from them. But our new powers of biotechnology make these questions unavoidable. Addressing them is the task of this book, by one of America's preeminent moral and political thinkers.

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 21 commentaires
38 internautes sur 44 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Short Atlantic Monthly article way better 11 juin 2007
Par txsierra - Publié sur
Format: Relié
I bought this book because I really enjoyed the Atlantic Monthly article that preceded this effort. Unfortunately, this book didn't include any additional substance but a lot more fluff. I was totally bored with the effort and pretty disappointed. I would not recommend spending $20 on this book, but rather dig up a pdf of the article and enjoy it instead.
61 internautes sur 75 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A very imperfect case 4 mai 2008
Par Danno - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Sandel is a gifted, lucid writer, which is why I wish I could give this book more stars. But if I restrict myself just to its substance, I have to confess that more than once I felt like throwing this book across the room or shoving it into my garbage disposal. What an irritating and profoundly misguided book!

Sandel seems to think that using biotechnology, especially genetic engineering, to enhance human life inevitably means encroaching on, and perhaps even destroying, our ability to appreciate the "gifted" character of life itself. The assumption is that appreciating what is "given" (whether by God or nature) requires holding back from enhancing our offspring and ourselves and accepting as normative the abilities and limitations of modern human beings. If we do proceed with genetic enhancements, then, according to Sandel, we are corrupted by a hubristic ethic of "mastery" over what is naturally given. This is wrongheaded--and for two main reasons.

First, Sandel offers very little by way of defense of the normativity of the natural. Although he concedes that not everything that is natural is good (and rightly gives cancer as an example), he tells us almost nothing in this book, beyond appealing to a naïve, static, Aristotelian-style natural law theory, about why the fact that something is naturally given is in any way even relevant to its goodness, let alone why it ought not be improved. If he is going to be any kind of naturalist, he needs to go back and rethink the implications of Darwinian evolution for attempts to identify and enshrine an immutable human essence. (The prospects aren't good.) Beyond that, he needs a response to a long line of critics of Aristotelian naturalism, from Hume to Moore, who with good reason have attacked the idea that one could straightforwardly infer what "ought" to be from what "is." Sandel's Aristotelian naturalism is highly doubtful, and since the rest of his evaluations seem to depend upon it, they would appear to be highly doubtful as well.

Second, Sandel treats the sense of reverence, awe, and mystery that we feel towards nature, including our own current way of being, as if it were a kind of non-renewable resource--as if it were like, say, a finite, exhaustible quantity of petroleum lying under the earth's surface. This is ludicrous. It is much more probable that no matter how much human beings enhance themselves--no matter how tall they can grow themselves, how big they make their muscles, how much more powerful they make their memories, or how much they can genetically enhance the powers of their offspring--they will always be limited both by their environment and by their competition with each other (and possibly other beings). As a result, we will never reach the sort of smug self-satisfaction to which Sandel refers near the end of his book: we will never entirely "banish our appreciation of life as a gift" nor ever find ourselves with "nothing to affirm or behold outside our own will" (p. 100). No doubt there are people (and have for a long time been people) who failed to appreciate what is given them, but this has to do with the lack of a certain kind of sensibility, a kind of imaginative obtuseness. It has nothing directly to do with whether we can make ourselves live somewhat longer, grow somewhat taller, remember more, think somewhat more quickly, and the like. No matter how much we enhance ourselves, there will always be what is "given" relative to that stage of advancement and over which we have no control. We will never become masters of the universe, and, if we really do have enhanced mental abilities, we will not fall into the delusion of thinking that we are.

On the other hand, suppose Sandel is right, and suppose that we actually do have the power to erase the "given" and make ourselves true masters of the universe. I for one have trouble even understanding this possibility. But suppose (probably per impossibile) that it makes sense. Well, in that case, we would have become gods. And, if we really were gods, the accusation against us of hubris would be quite misplaced, wouldn't it?

An earlier reviewer mentioned a similarity between Sandel and Heidegger. Despite my more negative assessment of Sandel's book, that comment seemed to me to be close to the mark, since Heidegger too was a thinker who tended to mistake his own subjective preferences and concerns for deep ontological structures. Sandel doesn't like genetic manipulation and enhancement, and he projects this dislike, ironically in a rather hubristic manner, on a cosmic screen, as if it were deeply revealing of the nature of reality, life, and humanity. But it isn't. If my criticisms are correct, then an ethic of "giftedness," in which we appreciate the naturally given, can coexist with a determination to enhance our abilities and those of our children so as to make all of our lives as good (in our own eyes) as possible.

Don't worry. The universe will take care of reminding us that we have limits.
14 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Perfect Debate 16 juillet 2008
Par Collin T. Corcoran - Publié sur
Format: Relié
A Case Against Perfection, which I read in two sittings over 5 hours in one afternoon. I simply could not put the book down, Sandel proposes both sides in the debate of Cloning/Perfomance Enhancement/Gene Therapy etc... Sandel makes you guess and second guess, then triple guess your own beliefs on these issues. In the end, I felt well informed and satisfied with this book. I strongly recommend this book. Not lengthy, fast read, well written.

16 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Interesting, not as insightful as others 19 mars 2009
Par David J. Moreau - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
The book was an interesting read, but frustrating. There was a genetic determinism about the discussion that made the author's stand feel naive. Clearly the variation in many human features are constrained to a particular range by genetics, but this does not mean that any individual can be engineered to guarantee the development a particular trait. Even extremely pro-genes books like The Nurture Assumption leave an important role for environment in human development (Harris just doesn't think parents are a particularly influential part of that environment).

The gift argument is repeated throughout, but not supported very well. Sandel also discusses genetic modifications as arms races, but misses the fact that the "improvement" of human characteristics need not entail an arms race or a zero sum game. There are traits that have a value that is non-competitive. If research has found that people with a happiness score of 8-9 on a scale of 1-10 succeed most in life, it is correct to note that success in many fields is competitive. Yet, the feeling of happiness and enjoyment of life is not a zero sum game. Every human can enjoy this at the same time. If genetic engineering made us all 8-9 on the happiness scale, we would all benefit individually in our quality of life, though we would only be keeping pace with regards to competitive advantage. Again, Sandel misses this nuance and his discussions suffer from it.

The part of the book I felt was worth reading was the section regarding hyper-parenting. This was a point neglected in other books I have read on the subject, such as Agar's and Glover's. Nevertheless, the other books are far superior discussions of the subject with more exhaustive and nuanced discussions of genetic engineering.

I would advise against reading only this book when reading on this subject. This book should be read to offer another perspective after reading a more well rounded discussion like Glover's. As with any of the books I mention in this review, you should understand views on the role of genetics in development before reading the books. Don't expect the books to teach those details, though Agar's does contain good discussions regarding the fallacy of genetic determinism.
15 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A new moral vision begins to take shape... 6 juin 2007
Par A reader reader - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
This is a small but very impressive book: timely, interesting, original, extremely well informed, very clearly written, organized, and argued, and largely persuasive. Reading it (in two sittings) was like listening to the two best applied ethics lectures I've ever heard (and I've heard lots). I strongly recommend this book.

It seemed to me, nonetheless, that one of the main moral criteria Sandel relies on got a bit blurred by the end. The distinction between manipulative molding (bad) and respectful beholding (good) seems to me to draw the line of moral permissibility too far into passivity territory. It'd be better to recognize, as Sandel does in the nice appendix on the stem cell debate, that there are molding beholdings or respectful manipulations, i.e., active interventions that respect and help develop the intrinsic capacitites at issue. But if the mold/behold dichotomy blurs that way, it would seem to undermine the hard and original line Sandel takes against bioengineering in the main part of the book. It would suggest, instead, that we could indeed allow some forms of genetic enhancement so long as they respect the intrinsic excellences we decide matter most. (How we are to decide that is a tricky issue broached but not delved into in this book.) If this is right, however, it would put Sandel much closer to the liberal eugenicists he criticizes.

In the end, I think Sandel's book is great: insightful, thought-provoking, and largely persuasive. Sandel articulates an original and deeply humane vision that ethicists, politicians, and other thinking citizens very much need to hear -- and then develop further. (Interestingly, Sandel's ethical vision seems surprisingly close to the later Heidegger in several crucial respects; the book suggests that he was influenced by a Heideggerian theologian and some brilliant undergraduate at Harvard, but I'd guess there's more to it than that.)
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