Kelly, Susan E.
Discussion. Toward an epistemological Luddism of bioethics
Science Studies, 19, (1), .
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In the decades since its emergence, bioethics has become successfully integrated,
institutionally and culturally, into contemporary processes of biotechnological production.
Its success is in large part the result of the development within American
bioethics of a strong principlist form that has had considerable influence on bioethics
developments regarding biotechnology governance internationally. This article
presents a critique of bioethics, drawing on insights from early work of Langdon
Winner, as ‘human technique’ – organized to adapt human needs and purpose to
requirements of biotechnological systems. From Winner it is suggested that present
technological systems give rise to an ethics that is appropriate to their ends, and the
norms, social relations, and values embedded in those systems are naturalized as
central to life. Bioethics has not developed reflexivity concerning its relationship with
technology, a reflexivity that is necessary for development of an ethics of technology
that has the capacity to critically engage its subject. Winner suggests, somewhat
whimsically, a process of “epistemological Luddism,” or the conscious dismantling of
the relations of technology, as a mechanism through which human autonomy with
regard to technological systems might be recovered. Implications for a reorientation
of bioethics following this suggestion are examined.
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