Mastery Without Mystery: Why there is no Promethean Sin in Enhancement
Several authors have suggested that we cannot fully grapple with the ethics of human enhancement unless we address neglected questions about our place in the world, questions that verge on theology but can be pursued independently of religion. A prominent example is Michael Sandel, who argues that the deepest objection to enhancement is that it expresses a Promethean drive to mastery which deprives us of openness to the unbidden and leaves us with nothing to affirm outside our own wills. Sandel's argument against enhancement has been criticized, but his claims about mastery and the unbidden, and their relation to religion, have not yet received sufficient attention. I argue that Sandel misunderstands the notions of mastery and the unbidden and their significance. Once these notions are properly understood, they have surprising implications. It turns out that the value of openness to the unbidden is not just independent of theism, as Sandel claims, but is in fact not even fully compatible with it. But in any case that value cannot support Sandel's objection to enhancement. This is because it is not enhancement but certain forms of opposition to enhancement that are most likely to express a pernicious drive to mastery.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: Guy Kahane, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Faculty of Philosophy, Littlegate House, St. Ebbe's Street, Oxford OX1 1PT, UK.
Publication date: 2011-11-01