Shaping Our Selves: On Technology, Flourishing, and a Habit of Thinking

Hardcover | November 5, 2014

byErik Parens

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When bioethicists debate the ethics of using technologies like surgery and pharmacology to shape our selves, they are debating what it means for human beings to flourish. They are debating what makes animals like us truly happy, and whether the technologies at issue will bring us closer to orfarther from such happiness. The positions that participants adopt in debates regarding such ancient and fundamental questions are often polarized, and cannot help but be deeply personal. It is no wonder that these debates are sometimes acrimonious. How can critics of and enthusiasts about technological self-transformation move forward in the midst of polarizing arguments? Based on his experience as a scholar at The Hastings Center, the oldest free-standing bioethics research institute in the world, Erik Parens proposes a habit of thinking, which he calls "binocular." It is a habit which can promote understanding between and within camps that no longer listen to -or, to use Parens' metaphor, see - the truth of their opponents' insights. Binocular thinking lets us benefit from the insights that are visible from the stance of the enthusiast, who emphasizes that using technology to creatively transform our selves will make us happier, and to benefit from the insights that are visible from the stance of the critic, who emphasizes thatlearning to let our selves be will make us happier. Because these debates ultimately entail critics and enthusiasts giving justifications for their own ways of being in the world, they entail the exchange of more than just impartial reasons. In the throes of our passion to make our case, we exaggerate our insights and all-too-often fall into theconceptual traps that our languages constantly set for us: Are human beings by nature creators or creatures? Are technologies morally neutral or value-laden? Is disability a medical or a social phenomenon? Indeed, are we free or determined? Parens explains how participating in these debates helpedhim articulate a habit of thinking, which is better at benefiting from the insights embedded in both poles of those binaries than was the habit of thinking he brought to the debates when he first engaged in them. Parens celebrates the fact that bioethics embraces two aspirations, which are in constant and fertile tension. The first aspiration is to face fundamental questions such as the one regarding the meaning of human flourishing - questions which to do not admit of crisp or final answers. The second isto help people face practical ethical questions-questions which demand such answers. The book culminates in a discussion of families negotiating both kinds of question, as they decide about appearance normalizing surgeries for children with atypical bodies.

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When bioethicists debate the ethics of using technologies like surgery and pharmacology to shape our selves, they are debating what it means for human beings to flourish. They are debating what makes animals like us truly happy, and whether the technologies at issue will bring us closer to orfarther from such happiness. The positions t...

Erik Parens is a senior research scholar at The Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute in Garrison, NY. He is also an adjunct professor in the program in Science, Technology, and Society at Vassar College, and a Fellow of the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:208 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.98 inPublished:November 5, 2014Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0190211741

ISBN - 13:9780190211745

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Table of Contents

Introduction1. Seeing from Somewhere in Particular2. Embracing Binocularity3. Creativity and Gratitude4. Technology as Value-Free and as Value-Laden5. Nobody's against True Enhancement6. Comprehending Persons as Subjects and as Objects7. Respecting Persons as Subjects and as ObjectsClosing Thoughts