Philosophy & Technology

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 525–541 | Cite as

Biological Interests, Normative Functions, and Synthetic Biology

Special Issue


In this paper, I discuss the aetiological account of biological interests, developed by Varner (1998), in the context of artefactual organisms envisioned by current research in synthetic biology. In “Sections 2–5”, I present Varner's theory and criticise it for being incapable of ascribing non-derivative interests to artefactual organisms due to their lack of a history of natural selection. In “Sections 6–7”, I develop a new alternative to Varner's account, building on the organisational theory of biological teleology and function. I argue that the organisational account of biological interest is superior to Varner's aetiological account because it (i) can accommodate both artefactual and naturally evolved organisms, (ii) provides a non-arbitrary and practical way of determining biological interests, (iii) supports the claim that organisms have interests in a sense in which artefacts do not, and (iv) avoids the possibility of there being a conflict between what an organismic part is supposed to do and what is in the interest of the organism.


Functions Biocentrism Synthetic biology Artefactual organism Artificial life Moral considerability Organism Artefact Teleology 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Media, Cognition, and Communication, Philosophy SectionUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen SDenmark

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