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Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution Paperback – May 2003


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Product details

  • Paperback: 10 pages
  • Publisher: Saint Martin's Press Inc.; Reprint edition (May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312421710
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312421717
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.7 x 20.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 801,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

In Our Posthuman Future, one of America's most conspicuous public intellectuals, Francis Fukuyama, explores the profound political, social and spiritual implications of the biotechnology revolution. He argues that if we are to avoid some of the worst political consequences of the biotech revolution then sweeping national and international regulation is required.

The heart of the book lies in his discussion of the philosophical issues raised by our ability to manipulate human nature. Fukuyama argues that future biotech capabilities may give us the capacity to effectively control human behaviour but may ultimately lead us into a "posthuman" future. What is ultimately at stake in the biotech revolution, according to Fukuyama, is the loss of our human essence. This amounts to more than a mere change in genetic constitution because the politically indispensable concept of human rights is derived not from God nor from man himself, but from nature.

Fukuyama has some plausible predictions about the way the American political landscape will shift as a result of the biotech revolution. The left, he predicts, will be split between pro-personal autonomy and environmentalist/anti-eugenicist wings, while the right will be split on libertarian versus social-conservative camps. He is also right on target with his critique of the aggressive atheism of scientific materialist philosophers who suppose that religiously motivated objections to biotechnology will wither away in the wake of the forces of modernity.

However, overall, it is difficult to share Fukuyama's sense of the importance of "natural rights" to the discussion of biotechnology. Even if one accepts the idea that it is possible and worthwhile to identify the "species-typical behaviour" of humans, why should we accept that the abandonment of the idea of a "single human nature shared by all peoples of the world"--what Fukuyama calls "Factor X"--fatally undermines our commitment to the idea of universal human equality? Similarly, why should we accept the idea that to manipulate human genes is to manipulate human values? Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the central argument Our Posthuman Future is a stimulating and provocative read, virtually guaranteed to annoy large numbers of philosophers and scientists. --Larry Brown --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'Deep and searching...explores human nature with his customary brilliance' Michael Gove, the Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Richard Bernstein on 8 Aug 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book presents a good general analysis of the social and ethical problems associated with the possibility of human genetic engineering.
The author contends that our current political and social institutions are based on the notion of a shared humanity. However, with changes to humanity as profound as the possibility of mixing of our DNA with that of other creatures, to what extent will it be possible to speak of a shared humanity? What will it mean to be human? Will it not be that the definitions with which we are currently familiar will become so overstretched that they will be meaningless? In attempting to address this problem he proposes that the major characteristic we might use to identify human-ness is human emotionality. In the same way that we treat people who are not physically perfect as human, so we might also treat future generations as human by virtue of their emotional makeup.
The book is sensibily divided up into three sections, each one dealing with different aspects of the issue. The first presents us with the general context of human intervention in our health and well-being, the second our current philosophical and legal understanding of the issues, and then finally some ideas as to how we might control the future use of these potentially transfiguring technologies.
The metaphor I kept coming up with was that this is the same sort of problem that affects countries enduring large-scale immigration. How does one manage that process while still retaining control of the identity of your nationality? In the same way, the changes in the human genetic future will be profound, but we will still have to retain some sense of what it means to be human.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Rhodri Powell on 9 Jun 2003
Format: Paperback
If you are a balanced individual of the Western consensus, and you want a book that crystallises your ideas and provides intellectual justification for your prejudices, if you believe with a sinking heart that much of modern philosophy and social science is no more than the raucous parroting of evident untruths, then this is the book for you.
If, however, you look for prediction, new insights or full explanations, then you will finish this book with a sense of disappointment. But you will finish it, because it is very well written, with a profound understanding of, and love of humanity and all its foibles. And it does put a new spin on old insights.
Fukuyama’s thesis is that brain science, neuropharmacology, research on ageing, and genetic engineering threaten the very nature of our humanity. He begins by discussing current and expected developments in these fields, and goes on to explore the issues of human rights, human nature and human dignity. The chapter on human dignity is particularly thought-provoking. He concludes by discussing and exploring current controls on applications of knowledge in these fields.
I find two basic problems with the book. I guess it began with horror inspired by the hype of the more extremely optimistic proponents of the sciences mentioned above. But the author’s examination of what these sciences can actually achieve shows that really, there isn’t much to worry about. Prozac and Ritalin are quoted as agents for modifying consciousness by suppressing undesirable but ‘normal’ behaviour. But as the author himself says, consciousness remains as much a mystery as it ever was.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By N. Canham on 7 Jan 2006
Format: Paperback
I was really looking forward to reading this book, and thoroughly enjoyed the first half. It is probably the best summary of current trends in biotechnology that I have read, and unlike many popular science books on the subject the author extends his discussion to the societal impacts but still remains succint and very readable. And I was intrigued by the premise of the second and third sections of the book - to develop an argument that there is a concept of intrinsic human nature and that the idea of human diginity is based on it, then to show how various biotech advances could threaten this human dignity and finally discuss ways to create a framework to prevent this happening. Sadly, I feel most of this was not achieved. The discussion of human nature was interesting but in many areas showed a lack of fundamental understanding of the issues, especally on conciousness; the author does not appear to understand the Turing Test for example, nor the deep problems of zombies as discussed in Dennetts 'Conciousness Explained'. No conclusion is reached on what human nature may be.
Even more troubling was the final section. As a summary of the existing regulatory frameworks for biotechnology it may suffice, but it is only in the final page of the book that any reference is made to the human dignity arguements of the second section. There's very little to tie the sections of the book together.
Ultimately, after a brilliant start I found the book a bit of a let down, but thought provoking and I would still recommend it.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By richyrich78 on 10 Mar 2006
Format: Paperback
'Our Post human Future' is Fukuyama's best book since 'the End of History and the Last Man'. Fukuyama revises the argument that History has ended because he thinks that future technologies, like genetic engineering and neuropharmacology, have the potential to change human nature thereby ushering in a post-human phase of history.

Fukuyama is worried that a race of post-humans will have devastating consequences. For example it could lead to humans becoming the post-humans slaves. Unlike previous forms of slavery, which were based on mistaken beliefs of superiority, this form would be based on real genetic differences: the post-humans being not just a different race but a different species altogether. Fukuyama, consequently, argues for the creation of an international regulatory framework to control and prevent human bioengineering.

Whilst I agree with a lot of this book I am unconvinced about two major points, hence four stars instead of five. Firstly I am not sure that genetic engineering of human beings will lead to undesirable results. Secondly I doubt that science's progress can be stopped.

Much of this book is a philosophical argument against the naturalistic fallacy (the idea that morals are derived from human nature). Some reviewers think that Fukuyama is simply not strong enough at philosophy to undermine the naturalistic fallacy, but I found the argument convincing. In fact sometimes I think it could be too convincing for I was left wondering whether "human rights" exist at all!

Some of the best assertions are in the first part of the book. I particularly enjoyed Fukuyama's lucidity with regards to homosexuality. Today people argue that homosexuality is natural because it has genetic causes, the so-called 'gay gene'.
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