Thematic Issue Article: Synthesis (σύνθεσις)

Biological Theory

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 391-401

First online:

Life as a Technological Product: Philosophical and Ethical Aspects of Synthetic Biology

  • Joachim BoldtAffiliated withDepartment of Medical Ethics and the History of Medicine, BIOSS Centre for Biological Signalling Studies, University of Freiburg Email author 

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Synthetic biology is a new biotechnology that is developing at an impressive pace and attracting a considerable amount of attention from outside the scientific community as well. In this article, two main philosophically and ethically relevant characteristics of this field of research will be laid bare, namely its reliance on mechanistic metaphors to denominate simple forms of life and its appeal to the semantic field of creativity. It is argued that given these characteristics synthetic biology can be understood as a prime example of a kind of human interference with reality that German philosopher Hannah Arendt called “fabrication.” This kind of self-world-relation contrasts to “action,” a relation that introduces, among other things, the idea of an inherent value of the object acted upon. Taking up this latter perspective, one scientific and two ethical challenges to synthetic biology’s take on the realm of life are identified.


Action Arendt Communication Concept of life Creation Engineering Ethics Habermas Synthetic biology Technology