Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 95–113 | Cite as

An Empirically Informed Critique of Habermas’ Argument from Human Nature

Original Paper


In a near-future world of bionics and biotechnology, the main ethical and political issue will be the definition of who we are. Could biomedical enhancements transform us to such an extent that we would be other than human? Habermas argues that any genetic enhancement intervention that could potentially alter ‘human nature’ should be morally prohibited since it alters the child’s nature or the very essence that makes the child who he is. This practice also commits the child to a specific life project or, in any case, it puts specific restrictions on his freedom to choose a life of his own. Ultimately, genetic enhancement jeopardizes the very foundations of moral equality. I contend that Habermas’ argument is based either on a series of presuppositions that imply a gross misunderstanding of evolution or the relevant factual information cocerning the action we are about to morally assess is not empirically supported. Hence, the argument from human nature is based on a series of false or problematic assumptions, and, as such, it fails to play the normative role intended by Habermas.


Genetic enhancement Human nature Kind essentialism Genetic determinism 



Many thanks to those who gave me valuable feedback on early presentations of this material, including Mark Bernstein, Dan Smith, Eric Meslin, Daniel Kelly and the Research Staff at the Hastings Center. I would also like to thank the anonymous referees for their valuable comments and suggestions on a previous version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Rock Ethics InstitutePenn State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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