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The Vulnerability of Life in the Philosophy of Hans Jonas

  • Paolo Becchi
  • Roberto Franzini Tibaldeo
Chapter
Part of the Ius Gentium: Comparative Perspectives on Law and Justice book series (IUSGENT, volume 55)

Abstract

According to Hans Jonas (1903–1993), the modern technological progress endowed humanity with wondrous power, which in the long run risks altering the nature of human action. This is especially true for the realm of collective action, the effects of which evidence an unpredicted issue: the ecological crisis, which is the “critical vulnerability” of nature to technological intervention. This discovery brings to light that the whole biosphere of the planet has been added to that which human beings must be responsible for because of their power over it. There is, however, a further dimension of vulnerability (and responsibility) to be considered, namely the one which characterizes organic life as such. Indeed, the essence of all living organisms–human beings included–is characterized by vulnerability, given their precarious and unstable condition of “needful freedom” towards the environment. Nevertheless, terrestrial life flourished through a multifaceted and unplanned (thus, again, vulnerable) evolution of living forms, ranging from bacteria to human beings – these evidencing a unique degree of freedom, which Jonas refers to as a “metaphysical gap” towards other living beings. The problem is that the present-day technology provides the possibility to manipulate the very essence of life and human nature. Is this process to be accepted and accomplished? And what about the related risks? Indeed, according to Jonas, issues such as genetic manipulation, euthanasia, organ transplantation, assisted reproduction, exploitation of other living beings etc., raise ethical dilemmas which can be addressed thanks to the idea of vulnerability. This notion has, according to Jonas, a metaphysical background, which he describes as follows: in the beginning, the Divine chose to give itself over to the chance, risk and endless variety of becoming. In order that the world (and life, and human freedom) might be, God renounced his own being, divesting himself of his deity. Thanks to this mythical account, the previous levels of vulnerability (concerning nature, life, and human nature) gain further clarification as signs of something sacrosanct.

Keywords

Englewood Cliff Moral Responsibility Behaviour Control Organic Life Human Enhancement 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di GiurisprudenzaUniversity of GenovaGenovaItaly
  2. 2.Institut supérieur de philosophie (ISP)Université catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium

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