Enhancement, hybris, and solidarity: a critical analysis of Sandel’s The Case Against Perfection

  • Ruud ter MeulenEmail author
Scientific Contribution


This article presents a critical analysis of the views of Michael Sandel on human enhancement in his book The Case Against Perfection (2007). Sandel argues that the use of biotechnologies for human enhancement is driven by a will to mastery or hybris, leading to an ‘explosion of responsibility’ and a disappearance of solidarity. I argue that Sandel is using a traditional concept of solidarity which leaves little room for individual differences and which is difficult to reconcile with the modern trend towards individual autonomy and cultural heterogeneity. With reference to the sociology of Giddens, I argue that the ‘explosion of responsibility’ can be considered an expression of the insecurity in modern society and the need for reflexivity in personal and social life. I argue that the need for reflexivity is a driving social and cultural force behind the interest in human enhancement, and that this trend can go together with a commitment to take care of the needs of others. I agree with Sandel that there is a risk that human enhancement may develop into ‘hybris’, particularly when enhancement is driven by scientism and a naturalist reduction of human values to neurological processes. Enhancement based on scientism will threaten solidarity defined by Honneth as an interactive relationship aimed at the mutual recognition of individual identities in relation to a shared value horizon. I will call for a reflective approach in which human enhancement technologies are explored in the context of a ‘system of reference’. Such a reflective approach will help to protect against the hybris of scientism and to maintain solidarity with vulnerable groups.


Ethics Human enhancement Solidarity Reflexivity Sandel Honneth 



The author is grateful to the Brocher Foundation for granting him a one-month residential fellowship at their premises in Hermance, Geneva, in October 2018, during which this article was written. 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bristol Medical SchoolUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  2. 2.DierenThe Netherlands

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