26 Jul

Leon Kass, Toward a More Natural Science: Biology and Human Affairs (The Free Press, 1985)

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 07/26/03

"I intend no aid or comfort to the enemies of science or the friends of ignorance. My intention, rather, is to point out that the teachings and discoveries of science are at best partial—indeed, partial in principle. They are necessarily incomplete, hence in need of being supplemented. Our current difficulties call for more and better thought, not less, albeit also thought of a somewhat different kind. They beckon us to seek deeper knowledge, precisely about the adequacy of what we already know—or think we know—and also about the possible knowability of what we have declared to be unknowable."

"Ultimately, our goal is a richer, more comprehensive 'new science' of man in relation to the whole. This must be compatible with the findings—if not necessarily the interpretations—of the natural, psychological, and social sciences. But it must also do justice to the full range and complexity of human powers and activities, and it might thus provide some standards for addressing moral and political questions." Leon R. Kass, Toward a More Natural Science

In Toward a More Natural Science: Biology and Human Affairs, professor and bioethicist Leon R. Kass discusses recent developments in scientific technologies and how they are affecting human nature and the contemporary understanding of it. Revolutionary biotechnologies have made life "less poor, nasty, brutish, and short," and promise to render life more livable yet, but they have also challenged man to transform, or at least to reconsider, his traditional view of himself and his place in the world. Kass, before beginning to construct a philosophy of science and nature that will be rich enough to wrestle with the questions the new biotechnologies pose to this long-held understanding, introduces inquiries such as: How reasonable is it to divorce science from ordinary experience and philosophy? What is the relationship between knowledge and wisdom? What is the proper relationship between science, which is universal by nature, and human institutions and polities, which are particularist? The thirteen essays of the collection build upon this introduction, intending "to search out the human significance of the presently new biology, and to search for a yet newer and richer biology that will do justice to matters of human significance."

Toward a More Natural Science comprises three parts. Part I, titled "Eroding the Limits: Troubles with the Mastery of Nature," concentrates on new biomedical technologies, providing descriptions of the technologies available and setting the direction of the discussion regarding their powers and concomitant ethical dilemmas. Part II, titled "Holding the Center: The Morality of Medicine," reconsiders the nature of medicine in light of the contemporary challenges to medicine's traditional understanding of its purpose. Part III, "Deepening the Ground: Nature Reconsidered," concerns itself with developing a proper philosophy of nature; it also considers death and what to make of it, and what nature reveals about how people ought to conduct themselves. [Posted July 2005, ALG]