Future-Perfect? Biotechnology and the Ethics
of the Unknown:
James P. Buchanan
They do not, like the old, merely exert a gentle guidance over nature's course, they have the power to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations.
As odd as it may sound, the purpose of an afterword is to look forward, to digest what has come before, and rather than make an attempt at summarization, draw upon it to try and see where we go from here. The conclusion which I draw from this collection (if it can be called a conclusion) is that as we enter an age of biotechnology we have been thrown into a face- to-face confrontation with the unknown. While it is always the case that the future presents us with the unknown, my claim is that the unknown has reached such proportions that it now needs to become one of our guiding principles in the formulation of ethical and policy decisions.
The position which I want to pursue here is that we are entering a new age, one which entails not only the wide-scale application of these new technologies but also new modes of understanding and organizing the world as well as new power relationships. As this occurs we are faced with a situation best characterized by the ethics of the unknown. I will claim that the ethics of the unknown is not a mandate to abandon all ethics but rather a call to a new type of ethics which results from a sensitivity to both the past and the future. I will argue that the uncertainties about the is (the present and future facts) does not absolve us from certain oughts, but rather that such uncertainty should become one of the principles upon which our oughts are based.