Genes and Human Self-Knowledge

Genes and Human Self-Knowledge

Historical and Philosophical Reflections on Modern Genetics

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268 pages

“The topic is timely yet not quickly perishable; the Human Genome Project will be a source of significant philosophical controversy well beyond its scheduled completion in 2005…The book will make an important contribution to the study of these critical issues.”—Chris Hackler

“The essays, many by well-known scholars, raise a rich set of issues on topics that will increasingly come to be recognized as important for enlightened citizens. The issues are significant for individual decision making and for collective decisions on questions of public policy.”—Brian Schrag

Contemporary developments in human genetics are profoundly meaningful, both for the rapidity of scientific discoveries and for their personal and social implications. The Human Genome Project, a worldwide effort to map the 50,000 to 100,000 genes making up the human blueprint, is creating new ways of understanding ourselves as individuals, as parents, as members of a family, an ethnic group, a species. Almost every day yet another medical detective finds a genetic clue to the long-running mystery of human identity.

In 1992, the University of Iowa Humanities Symposium provided a public forum to examine the issues—moral, conceptual, legal, and practical—in modern genetics that are crucial to all of us. This strong, challenging volume is a collection of the major essays presented by historians, philosophers, and other academic humanists to a multidisciplinary audience of molecular and clinical geneticists, genetic counselors, humanists, and members of the public. The essays explore the historical background, philosophical implications, and ethical issues related to the Human Genome Project as well as other developments in modern genetics.

The questions raised in these essays are dramatic and troubling. What kind of knowledge is being produced by molecular geneticists? Do individual human genomes differ significantly from each other? How much do females and males differ from each other at the molecular level? Is there any genetic basis for distinguishing among racial or ethical groups? Can current practices in genetics counseling be compared to the earlier eugenics movement? Will current research lead to updated views on genetic “normalcy” or even “superiority”?