Human nature: An oxymoron?

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 28 (2):151 – 169 (2003)
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Abstract

The concept of human nature played an important role in the Aristotelian attempt to characterize the specific difference of humans from other animals and serves as a normative guide. But with the positivistic turn in the modern conception of nature and the denaturalization of reason (typically since Kant), the essential characteristic of human beings can no more be thought of as "natural". The idea of human nature is more commonly conceived as open-ended, and is associated, since Pico della Mirandola, with the human power of self-shaping or transcendence of one's nature. This rift between the human and the natural undermines the coherence of the traditional concept of human nature. Since the concept of human nature is often used in the debates about the moral legitimacy of contemporary genetic technologies, the critical analysis suggested in the first part of the article is used in the second part to assess the force of the argument from human nature in the context of germ line genetic manipulation, genetic engineering, eugenics, and cloning.

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