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Does scientific-technological progress endanger human dignity?

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Maximilian Forschner
Institut für Philosophie, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, D-Erlangen
Summary

1) The goal of modern science, to which also today's medicine is obliged, is the unlimited advance of knowledge and ability. It objectifies, neutralises and levels all of its objects to parameters which can be analysed, calculated, manipulated and performed; it abstracts from all personal mentality, experience and achievements in our surroundings and from all goals and personal daily appraisals of ourselves and the world around us.
2) The goal of scientific knowledge, its progress and its translation into technology is in today's understanding the abolition of distress, disease and suffering as well as the increase of ways and means to make human existence more endurable, comfortable, richer in experience and longer. As such a functionally defined good, science is bound to the laws and dynamics of the (national and global) market.
3) The term 'human dignity' as it is used in article 1 of the German constitution is based on the idea of self-purpose, respectively self-worth, which a human has a right to for his own sake, irrespective of other goods or purposes. This term finds its binding interpretation in the system of basic rights (R. Zippelius). Here, an elemental legal right of the individual is addressed, which cannot be put to disposition for any benefit or damage to the state or the society, one last taboo which protects every individual 'without consideration of the person' from interference and complete instrumentation by others.
4) Man as an object of modern, scientific research is 'objectified' like any other object. The drive to knowledge is limitless. The general and scientific relations between the progress of knowledge and ability and the goods and market values mentioned above offer no protection of man as a person from complete objectification and instrumentation. In the context of a society-dominated naturalistic concept of man, in which man is considered no more than a complex system of needs and interests, human dignity does in fact seem to be endangered. Some see a prime example of the conflict on the limits of man's self-instrumentation in the current discussion on the ethical limitations of stem cell research.


ALTEX 19(4), 206-210

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