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Synthetic Biology and the Distinction between Organisms and Machines

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In the context of synthetic biology, scientists and bioengineers talk of living beings as being 'living machines'. This categorisation of the envisaged new life forms has given rise to the ethical concern that their moral status may be seen as different from that of natural or only partially artificial living beings (GMOs). The paper discusses the notion of a living being and the notion of a machine in order to arrive at a conclusion to the question of whether this categorisation is warranted or not. For this reason, it also looks back to the history of the comparison of living beings to machines and tries to show what motivated the analogy. In the end, though, it is argued that one should stop short of categorising living beings as machines, even if there are areas of analogy between living beings and machines. Finally, the idea that the envisaged artificial synthetic living beings could be regarded as some kind of machines is rejected.
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Keywords: life; living being; machine; synthetic biology; synthetic organism

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 February 2012

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  • Environmental Values is an international peer-reviewed journal that brings together contributions from philosophy, economics, politics, sociology, geography, anthropology, ecology and other disciplines, which relate to the present and future environment of human beings and other species. In doing so we aim to clarify the relationship between practical policy issues and more fundamental underlying principles or assumptions.

    Environmental Values has a Journal Impact Factor (2016) of 1.279.
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