Is Human Nature Obsolete?

From Basic Bioethics

Is Human Nature Obsolete?

Genetics, Bioengineering, and the Future of the Human Condition

Edited by Harold W. Baillie and Timothy K. Casey





As our scientific and technical abilities expand at breathtaking speeds, concern that modern genetics and bioengineering are leading us to a posthuman future is growing. Is Human Nature Obsolete? poses the overarching question of what it is to be human against the background of these current advances in biotechnology. Its perspective is philosophical and interdisciplinary rather than technical; the focus is on questions of fundamental ontological importance rather than the specifics of medical or scientific practice.

The authors—all distinguished scholars in their fields—take on questions about technology's goals and values that are often ignored or sidelined in the face of rapid scientific advances and the highly specialized nature of technical knowledge. The essays included represent a rich variety of thought, ranging from finely nuanced philosophical and theological arguments to historical studies and cultural commentaries. Several explore the historical background of today's biotechnology: Timothy Casey traces such developments as the emergence of cybernetic humanity from Cartesian dualism, and Diane Paul presents the history of "positive" versus coerced eugenics. Jean Bethke Elshtain discusses cloning as a "messianic project" to perfect the body and exclude natural diversity—giving as an example the elimination of Down Syndrome as an acceptable human type—while Harold Baillie calls for an examination of the metaphysical roots of personhood. Robert Proctor finds no evidence in paleontology for any "essence of humanity," and Tom Shannon argues against materialist reductionism. Addressing social concerns, Lisa Sowle Cahill finds the possibility of a political solution to the problems raised by genetic engineering in Catholic teachings on social justice, and Langdon Winner looks critically at the "scientific enthusiasts of a posthuman future." Taken as a whole, the book provides a humanistic overview of a subject too often considered only in its technological aspect.


$67.00 X ISBN: 9780262025690 440 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 1 illus.


$29.00 X ISBN: 9780262524285 440 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 1 illus.


Harold W. Baillie

Harold W. Baillie is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Scranton.

Timothy K. Casey

Timothy K. Casey is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Scranton.


  • Modifying ourselves through molecular biology is a humanitarian utopia to some, an imminent nightmare to others. But to all, the prospect should be a challenge because it touches on so many basic and unresolved questions. This excellent, probing collection of papers—spanning philosophy, history, social science, and theology—will be welcomed by professionals and lay readers alike.

    Edward Tenner

    author of Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences and Our Own Devices: How Technology Remakes Humanity

  • The greatest strength of this book is the philisophical ambition of many of the essays, which make use of a rich variety of thought and literature to explore the implications of the new genetics and new biology. The book draws interesting and unpredictable connections between large human themes and contemporary debates. Particular essays in the volume will have lasting value in the field and are deeply relevant to the current bioethical deliberations at the national level.

    Eric Cohen

    Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington DC

  • The conversation about what we want—literally—to make of ourselves is probably the most important conversation human beings will ever have. This carefully considered book is a fine entry into that dialogue, and it comes not a moment too soon.

    Bill McKibben

    author of Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age