Christopher J. Preston

Christopher J. Preston is Professor of Philosophy and a Research Fellow in the Mansfield Center's Program on Ethics and Public Affairs at the University of Montana.

  • The Synthetic Age

    The Synthetic Age

    Outdesigning Evolution, Resurrecting Species, and Reengineering Our World

    Christopher J. Preston

    Imagining a future in which humans fundamentally reshape the natural world using nanotechnology, synthetic biology, de-extinction, and climate engineering.

    We have all heard that there are no longer any places left on Earth untouched by humans. The significance of this goes beyond statistics documenting melting glaciers and shrinking species counts. It signals a new geological epoch. In The Synthetic Age, Christopher Preston argues that what is most startling about this coming epoch is not only how much impact humans have had but, more important, how much deliberate shaping they will start to do. Emerging technologies promise to give us the power to take over some of Nature's most basic operations. It is not just that we are exiting the Holocene and entering the Anthropocene; it is that we are leaving behind the time in which planetary change is just the unintended consequence of unbridled industrialism. A world designed by engineers and technicians means the birth of the planet's first Synthetic Age.

    Preston describes a range of technologies that will reconfigure Earth's very metabolism: nanotechnologies that can restructure natural forms of matter; “molecular manufacturing” that offers unlimited repurposing; synthetic biology's potential to build, not just read, a genome; “biological mini-machines” that can outdesign evolution; the relocation and resurrection of species; and climate engineering attempts to manage solar radiation by synthesizing a volcanic haze, cool surface temperatures by increasing the brightness of clouds, and remove carbon from the atmosphere with artificial trees that capture carbon from the breeze.

    What does it mean when humans shift from being caretakers of the Earth to being shapers of it? And in whom should we trust to decide the contours of our synthetic future? These questions are too important to be left to the engineers.

    • Hardcover $25.95
    • Paperback $15.95

Contributor

  • Synthetic Biology and Morality

    Synthetic Biology and Morality

    Artificial Life and the Bounds of Nature

    Gregory E. Kaebnick and Thomas H. Murray

    A range of views on the morality of synthetic biology and its place in public policy and political discourse.

    Synthetic biology, which aims to design and build organisms that serve human needs, has potential applications that range from producing biofuels to programming human behavior. The emergence of this new form of biotechnology, however, raises a variety of ethical questions—first and foremost, whether synthetic biology is intrinsically troubling in moral terms. Is it an egregious example of scientists “playing God”? Synthetic Biology and Morality takes on this threshold ethical question, as well as others that follow, offering a range of philosophical and political perspectives on the power of synthetic biology.

    The contributors consider the basic question of the ethics of making new organisms, with essays that lay out the conceptual terrain and offer opposing views of the intrinsic moral concerns; discuss the possibility that synthetic organisms are inherently valuable; and address whether, and how, moral objections to synthetic biology could be relevant to policy making and political discourse. Variations of these questions have been raised before, in debates over other biotechnologies, but, as this book shows, they take on novel and illuminating form when considered in the context of synthetic biology.

    Contributors John Basl, Mark A. Bedau, Joachim Boldt, John H. Evans, Bruce Jennings, Gregory E. Kaebnick, Ben Larson, Andrew Lustig, Jon Mandle, Thomas H. Murray, Christopher J. Preston, Ronald Sandler

    • Hardcover $42.00
    • Paperback $25.00