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Enlightened Eugenics or Eugenics Contra Equality?

Benjamin Gregg
University of Texas at Austin
Benjamin Gregg
University of Texas at Austin
Open Panel

Abstract

The political postulate of legal and social equality was partially rescinded as Enlightenment thinkers placed different human communities into a normative hierarchy. What about genetic manipulation? Do certain eugenic interventions undermine the egalitarian presuppositions of liberal democratic societies? (1) Does eugenics render the very identity of the human species manipulable? Would the manipulation of that identity, in utero, generate an asymmetrical and non-egalitarian relationship between the manipulators and the manipulated, that is, between parents and children? Will genetic interventions lead toward a kind of genetic determinism? (2) Or is the asymmetry between manipulators and manipulated qualitatively distinct from the asymmetry unavoidably generated through child-rearing? Are genetic interventions unlikely to ever determine the individual’s “fate” in life because that “fate” is always also determined by the exchanges and relationships between the individual’s own nature and his or her social environment? Might child-rearing be structured so as to be “interactive,” such that the “bodies” of our children are free of manipulation by parents and physicians? In sum: Just as the Enlightenment (e.g., Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Voltaire, Diderot, and d’Alembert) focused on the identity of the human species as the basis for the construction of moral consciousness, yet did not provide for all future generations as free and equal (e.g., a hundred years before well-developed racist theories one finds in Enlightenment thought the beginnings of a division of humankind along the lines of race), would today for example neo-natal implantations block future generations from being free and equal persons?