Changing Nature's Course: The Ethical Challenge of Biotechnology

By Gerhold K. Becker; James P. Buchanan | Go to book overview

7
Technology Assessment, Ethics
and Public Policy in Biotechnology:

The Case of the Human Genome Project

Joel Zimbelman


The Technological Imperative

Richard Tarnass suggests that Western culture is in large part defined by its inquisitiveness and its search for knowledge through the use of human cognitive faculties. 1 But the Western mind is also motivated by a humanistic impulse: the desire to 'sustain an ethos in which the purposive control of the natural environment for the attainment of . . . [human betterment] and productive knowledge has been considered an appropriate human activity'. 2 Numerous philosophical and religious writers have reflected on the relationship that holds between human beings and their use of tools. 3Homo sapiens (mind maker) has always been homo faber (tool maker). But this ability at technological innovation at times has unreflectively expressed itself. In the recent history of the West, one important manifestation of this uncritical attitude has been the acceptance and ultimate dominance of the technological imperative in guiding much social activity: 'If something is technologically feasible, it is desirable'. In the technological imperative, the possibility of technological progress establishes or implies a self-authenticating moral mandate to undertake that task. A society that embodies the technological imperative possesses a surprisingly upbeat assessment of technology in general and its ability to provide the specific means by which human beings, their history, and their cultures can be transformed for the better. The technological imperative is essentially the product of a progressivist philosophy. From this perspective, technological advances are ontological advances that empower human beings to become what they are supposed to be. The technological imperative assumes that the ability and wisdom exists in individuals, but also

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