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Title: Human Nature and Autonomy
Subtitle: Jürgen Habermas' Critique of Liberal Eugenics
Author(s): HENRICH, Daniel C.
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 18    Issue: 2   Date: 2011   
Pages: 249-268
DOI: 10.2143/EP.18.2.2116812

Abstract :
This essay examines whether Habermas' approach to bioethics implies that the ethical challenges of eugenics cannot be answered within the scope of a deontological account, but only with reference to a concept of the good life or a normative anthropology. First, Habermas' 'argument against alien determination' is elaborated, based on an action-theoretical concept of 'human nature' which is analyzed in the part three. Habermas' main objection against genetic engineering, namely that it entails a reification of human nature by undermining the consciousness of autonomy of the genetically manipulated person, is also discussed. Subsequently, his concept of human nature as a condition of possibility of our ethical self-understanding, which is expressed in the phrase 'ethics of the species', is introduced. It is argued that this term clearly indicates Habermas' departure from the path of deontological ethics. Moreover, this essay asserts that two readings of the argument against alien determination are possible (a weak and a quasi-transcendental one) and that the expression 'consciousness of autonomy' therefore remains ambiguous. The fourth part of the paper deals with the question whether or not the argument against alien determination is conditional on the assumption of genetic determinism. In part five, the author claims that in contrast to earlier conceptions, Habermas now implicitly raises the question 'Why be moral?' and at the same time refuses to address it. The essay concludes with two different anthropological accounts that can be found in Habermas' work and that might be helpful to correct the anthropological deficiency of his bioethical account.

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