The silencing of Kierkegaard in Habermas' critique of genetic enhancement
Medicine, Health Care, and Philosophy 2009 May; 12(2): 147-156
The main purpose of this paper is to draw attention to an important part of Habermas' critique of genetic enhancement, which has been largely ignored in the discussion; namely his use of Kierkegaard's reflections on the existential conditions for becoming one-self from Either/or and the Sickness unto Death. It will be argued that, although Habermas presents some valuable and highly significant perspectives on the effect of genetic enhancement on the individual's self-understanding and ability to experience him- or herself as a free and equal individual, he does not succeed in working out a consistent argument. The claim is that he fails to explain how the existential analysis is related to his reflections on the sociological and psychological impacts of genetic enhancement in the realm of communicative action. It is this lack of theoretical clarity, which seems to render Habermas vulnerable to some of the critique which has been raised against his theory from a number of different scientific disciplines and areas of research. Hence, the first part of the paper provides some examples of the nature and variety of this critique, the second part presents Habermas' own critique of genetic enhancement in the context of a dispute between so-called 'liberal' and 'conservative' arguments, and finally, the third part discusses the limits and possibilities of his position in a future debate about genetic enhancement.
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