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Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution [Paperback]

Francis Fukuyama
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 1 2003 0312421710 978-0312421717 1
A decade after his now-famous pronouncement of “the end of history,” Francis Fukuyama argues that as a result of biomedical advances, we are facing the possibility of a future in which our humanity itself will be altered beyond recognition. Fukuyama sketches a brief history of man’s changing understanding of human nature: from Plato and Aristotle to the modernity’s utopians and dictators who sought to remake mankind for ideological ends. Fukuyama argues that the ability to manipulate the DNA of all of one person’s descendants will have profound, and potentially terrible, consequences for our political order, even if undertaken with the best of intentions. In Our Posthuman Future, one of our greatest social philosophers begins to describe the potential effects of genetic exploration on the foundation of liberal democracy: the belief that human beings are equal by nature.

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In Our Posthuman Future, one of America's most conspicuous public intellectuals, Francis Fukuyama, explores the profound political, social and spiritual implications of the biotechnology revolution. He argues that if we are to avoid some of the worst political consequences of the biotech revolution then sweeping national and international regulation is required.

The heart of the book lies in his discussion of the philosophical issues raised by our ability to manipulate human nature. Fukuyama argues that future biotech capabilities may give us the capacity to effectively control human behaviour but may ultimately lead us into a "posthuman" future. What is ultimately at stake in the biotech revolution, according to Fukuyama, is the loss of our human essence. This amounts to more than a mere change in genetic constitution because the politically indispensable concept of human rights is derived not from God nor from man himself, but from nature.

Fukuyama has some plausible predictions about the way the American political landscape will shift as a result of the biotech revolution. The left, he predicts, will be split between pro-personal autonomy and environmentalist/anti-eugenicist wings, while the right will be split on libertarian versus social-conservative camps. He is also right on target with his critique of the aggressive atheism of scientific materialist philosophers who suppose that religiously motivated objections to biotechnology will wither away in the wake of the forces of modernity.

However, overall, it is difficult to share Fukuyama's sense of the importance of "natural rights" to the discussion of biotechnology. Even if one accepts the idea that it is possible and worthwhile to identify the "species-typical behaviour" of humans, why should we accept that the abandonment of the idea of a "single human nature shared by all peoples of the world"--what Fukuyama calls "Factor X"--fatally undermines our commitment to the idea of universal human equality? Similarly, why should we accept the idea that to manipulate human genes is to manipulate human values? Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the central argument Our Posthuman Future is a stimulating and provocative read, virtually guaranteed to annoy large numbers of philosophers and scientists. --Larry Brown --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Fukuyama (The End of History and the Last Man; Trust) is no stranger to controversial theses, and here he advances two: that there are sound nonreligious reasons to put limits on biotechnology, and that such limits can be enforced. Fukuyama argues that "the most significant threat" from biotechnology is "the possibility that it will alter human nature and thereby move us into a `posthuman' stage of history." The most obvious way that might happen is through the achievement of genetically engineered "designer babies," but he presents other, imminent routes as well: research on the genetic basis of behavior; neuropharmacology, which has already begun to reshape human behavior through drugs like Prozac and Ritalin; and the prolongation of life, to the extent that society might come "to resemble a giant nursing home." Fukuyama then draws on Aristotle and the concept of "natural right" to argue against unfettered development of biotechnology. His claim is that a substantive human nature exists, that basic ethical principles and political rights such as equality are based on judgments about that nature, and therefore that human dignity itself could be lost if human nature is altered. Finally, he argues that state power, possibly in the form of new regulatory institutions, should be used to regulate biotechnology, and that pessimism about the ability of the global community to do this is unwarranted. Throughout, Fukuyama avoids ideological straitjackets and articulates a position that is neither Luddite nor laissez-faire. The result is a well-written, carefully reasoned assessment of the perils and promise of biotechnology, and of the possible safeguards against its misuse. (Apr.) Forecast: As the FSG publicity material notes, Fukuyama famously declared in the wake of communism's collapse that "the major alternatives to liberal democracy" had "exhausted themselves." This less dramatic assessment should still win a hearing, if not among scientists then among a public concerned about science's growing power.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Human Nature Has Never Been Static Nov. 11 2003
What is "human nature"? And will failure to initiate widespread government oversight of scientific research that could change this definition open a Pandora's Box of dire consequences?
Fukuyama suggests that failure to impose substantial government dictates over the "when's" and "how's" of future research centering on the human body and mind will precipitate a significant sea change in the inherent nature of our species, how we interact with one another, and a potential threat to Liberal Democracy. The implicit message is that unfettered scientific inquiry will lead to developments we will come to deeply regret.
While Fukuyama correctly illustrates the "easy fixes" that our society has latched onto (Prozac, Ritilin: Who said freedom to choose would mean wise choices?), his thesis fails to acknowledge the considerable roadblocks that Religion and State have placed in the way of the evolution of our species throughout history.
"Human nature" has, in fact, demonstrated a rather elastic nature over time. If one accepts the premise that human nature is fixed in an eternal quest for freedom, self-development and dignity and is manifested in superior intelligence, then one would want to remove any artificial roadblocks to creating the maximum environment in which these attributes could flourish. How else to explain the demise of almost all competing political models to Liberal Democracy? Yet, Fukuyama proposes a step backward, based on what appears to be a fixed, non-elastic definition of human nature.
Were a caveman to be plopped down in the late 20th Century and witness the first heart transplant, would he recoil in disgust and declare the practice inimical to the basic fabric of human existence? Quite likely.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Thinly disguised neophobia, but worthwhile Sept. 12 2003
By almost any standard, social philosopher Francis Fukuyama's "Our Posthuman Future" is an important book. In it, he explores near-term breakthroughs in neuropharmacology (i.e., Prozac, Ritalin, Zoloft), genetic screening and the looming prospect of germ-line genetic engineering, which could conceivably fracture the human race beyond recognition a la Aldous Huxley's cautionary masterpiece "Brave New World." Fukuyama is an engaging polemicist who knows biotechnology and harbors understandable reservations about its potential. So perhaps it's surprising that I don't agree with his thesis.
Much of "Our Posthuman Future" is devoted to Fukuyama's case for "human nature" and "human dignity." One can hardly blame him; the technologies he describes pose grave existential questions for the human condition. We may very well evolve into a "posthuman" stage of being. My central problem is Fukuyama's negative reading of the term "posthuman"; though he applauds biotech breakthroughs that have prolonged and improved human life, he equates "posthuman" with the soulless "happy slaves" of dystopian science fiction. He seems unable or unwilling to foster the notion that willfully upgrading the human species through psychotropic drugs or genetic intervention might result in a legitimate long-term improvement. Fukuyama accomplishes his literary mission by vigorously defending what he terms "human nature." To his credit, he gives us a robust historical model of what it means to be human, citing philosophers from Aristotle to Nietzsche and even name-dropping roboticist Hans Moravec and artificial intelligence advocate Ray Kurzweil.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Commendable Failure April 8 2003
By A Customer
This is a book with many virtues and one fatal flaw. Among the former are a clear, lucid style and an impressive overview of the state of the art in contemporary genetic science and the moral debates that they have provoked. This book is highly recommended to those who are relatively new to these issues and want a superb, layman's introduction.
But the book's central argument is embarrassingly weak. Fukuyama relies on Aristotle to support his central claim that morality ought to be grounded in an essential conception of human nature, the substance of which he sketches in the core chapters of the book. Scientific techniques should be regulated by the state, he argues, so that they do not threaten this nature, and thereby constitute an assault on human dignity.
The flaw here is what 20th Century philosophers have labelled "the naturalistic fallacy": deriving a statement of value from a statement(s) of fact(s). In a word, facts tell us nothing about what is valuable. Fukuyama confronts this objection head-on by denying that the naturalistic fallacy really is a fallacy. (The "naturalistic fallacy fallacy"!) I admire his intellectual gusto in doing so, although he had little choice if he wanted his argument to have some chance of success. But he just isn't a good enough philosopher to pull it off. He doesn't even come remotely close. The fact that many philosophers (eg. Kant, Rawls) who accept that this is a fallacy have made claims about human nature--this is Fukuyama's main counter-argument--may be true, but it simply goes to show that they were inconsistent; it doesn't touch the naturalistic fallacy. That is the (weak) heart of his counter-argument. This isn't a minor problem for Fukuyama. His whole argument pivots on it.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and interesting
There is no great revolutionary thesis here of the kind that Fukuyama astonished the world with in his previous work, claiming that the end of history had come and it is the... Read more
Published on March 28 2004 by Shalom Freedman
2.0 out of 5 stars ...and this guy's on the president's bioethics panel?!
I guess someone has to play the job of the paranoid futurist and Fukuyama has done a great job of it in the past. Here, he is no better. His aim: the biotech industry. Read more
Published on Jan. 11 2004 by Kevin Currie-Knight
2.0 out of 5 stars Does not stand the test of philosophical analysis
While containing some interesting remarks, Fukuyama's book does not present a good argument to support his main thesis -namely, that human nature is a source of normativity. Read more
Published on Jan. 29 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Another intellectual journey with Fukuyama
Fukuyama has a gift. He takes the great issues of the day and discerns the grand theoretical explanation for them, even while the controversy and chaos of the present swirls... Read more
Published on Jan. 5 2003 by Michael Solender
4.0 out of 5 stars Timely and Provocative
This is an exploration on several levels -- advances in biotechnology and where they are headed, and what it means to be human. Read more
Published on Jan. 5 2003 by Emil L. Posey
4.0 out of 5 stars Vital and interesting but not convincing
I was very impressed with the depth and scope of Fukuyama's examination of the call to regulate biotechnology and especially with the fairness of his presentation and tone. Read more
Published on Nov. 12 2002 by Dennis Littrell
1.0 out of 5 stars Our Aristotlean Past
I worked through this book in a class I took at Duke University this fall. We spent about three weeks on this book and at the end there was nothing left to its claims about... Read more
Published on Nov. 7 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking
In his latest work, Frank Fukuyama, a political scientist with a talent for sweeping analysis and cogent policy insights, turns to the fascinating and (from a layman's perspective)... Read more
Published on Aug. 2 2002 by T. Graczewski
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking argument about human evolution
What are the longrange consequences of the biotechnology revolution? Our Posthuman Future argues that what is at stake is the ability to control and shape human behavior and human... Read more
Published on July 11 2002 by Midwest Book Review
5.0 out of 5 stars You may drive out nature with a pitchfork,
...When Fukuyama, in his latest book, published a few months ago, takes to task large segments of the scientifical and bioethical community, we should pay attention, for he is... Read more
Published on July 8 2002 by Antonio
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