From agri-culture to techno-culture: the intertwined ethical and epistemological grounds of biotechnology

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Intrinsic concerns about biotechnology are usually ignored or considered to be irrational and antiscientific, revealing contradictions between scientific and ethical principles. Based on Aristotle's definition of Ethics and the values of
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  EURSAFE 2004 Ñ SCIENCE, ETHICS & SOCIETY 105 From agri-culture to techno-culture: the intertwined ethical and epistemological grounds of biotechnology    Abstract   Intrinsic concerns about biotechnology are usually ignored or considered to be irrational and antiscientific, revealing contradictions between scientific and ethical principles. Based on Aristotle's definition of Ethics and the values of Antiquity, the  True, the Good and the Beautiful, I examine how ethics, science and art are interconnected in cultural life through differential interplay of the basic human faculties of action, deliberative rationality and sentiment. Ethical activity finds its impetus in sentiment and is mediated by deliberative rationality, corresponding respectively to principalist and consequential ethical levels. The objective of the scientific revolution was to oppose the old revelation culture in which knowledge is god-given via  sentiment and to promote a conceptual culture through the epistemological premises: empiricism, reductionism, and objectification.  This established a new principalist order in which technology becomes a moral imperative.  This technological locking is characterised by the emancipation of action not only from sentiment but also from deliberative rationality. In contrast to physical technology, biotechnology is not established on an integrated knowledge but on operational power. The inadequacy of the machine metaphor applied to living organisms is reflected by a decline in our conceptual control and should be a stimulation to question the epistemological principles employed. To re-unify the True and the Good, major changes in scientific paradigms are needed. According to the threefold articulation of ethics, science and art presented, it may be anticipated that the Beautiful should play a significant role as a mediator between the True and the Good. Introduction   The emancipation of knowledge from a moral, religious authority is regarded as a major condition that allowed the development of modern science. By advocating technology as the ultimate validation of science and a means of social  progress, technoscience has merged again in a common framework the authority of knowledge and the representation of the common good, thus introducing a new contract  between science and morality. This leads to a paradoxical situation in which science is claimed to be neutral and a-moral and at the same time ambitions to rule the common good. Applied to life processes following a physical model, this framework has raised ongoing controversy in society. Since the srcin of recombinant DNA technology and more strikingly with the release of GMO on the market and first reports of animal cloning, biotechnology has widely contributed to heat debates on the importance of technology in our culture. Intrinsic concerns are directed to technology itself and drawn from moral  principles  or imperatives that must not be transgressed - for example, species boundaries, naturalness, integrity of life (Verhoog, 2003). In contrast, extrinsic concerns address the consequences  of technology - especially the impact on human health, environment, social rights and justice (Nuffield Council on Bioethics,1999). So far, the analyses of social concerns in public  policy have been confined to consequential considerations downstream of technology whilst opposition to technology itself is seen as irrational, "antiscience zealotry" (Borlaug, 2000) and a threat against the common good (Pouteau, 2003). I will attempt to show that intrinsic concerns about  biotechnology itself are locked in the epistemological premises: empiricism , reductionism , and objectification , which operate on principalist grounds and thus affect the whole organisation of cultural life in ethical, scientific and artistic domains. The threefold organisation of cultural life Cultural life encompasses the activities by which we convey meaning in our relationship to the world and to ourselves. This can be qualified by the three virtues of Antiquity, the True , the Good   and the  Beautiful  , that are respectively aimed at by science, ethics and art. Aristotle in the  Magnia Moralia  explains that ethics primarily relies on the "irrational impetus of passions", a faculty that would now be called  sentiment   or  perceptive feeling  . This impetus is subsequently submitted to "deliberation" and to the "suffrage of reason", i.e. rational evaluation by thinking   or deliberative rationality . Finally, this leads to decision and action towards the good by the faculty of will  . Aristotle's description reveals a threefold articulation  of ethics: an impetus  level, a mediating   level and an expression  level, which respectively involve one of the three basic human faculties: perceptive feeling, thinking and will. This description has important implications: i) sentiment cannot be disqualified by rationality because it provides the actual content and not a dispensable factor for deliberation, ii)  principalist and consequential ethics - respectively addressing intrinsic and extrinsic concerns - cannot be separated nor opposed. Principalist ethics relies on the initial level where moral judgement finds its impetus in irrational perception of good and evil, for example through disgust or sentiment of unnaturalness. Since it is only prescriptive, principalist ethics Sylvie Pouteau* Ethos INRA (http://www.inra.fr/Internet/Directions/SED/EES/) Laboratoire de Biologie Cellulaire, INRA, Route de Saint-Cyr, F78026 Versailles cedex, France Sylvie.Pouteau@ versailles.inra.fr    Keywords  intrinsic concerns - scientific principles - technological locking  - emergent properties - biotechnology  EURSAFE 2004 Ñ SCIENCE, ETHICS & SOCIETY 106 on its own cannot solve the potential contradictions that may arise from specific situations and does not allow autonomy in the formation of a moral judgement. Consequential ethics corresponds to the mediating level where a moral judgement is elaborated through rational balancing of the various factors involved in a specific situation. Since it is only deliberative and descriptive, consequential ethics on its own cannot justify the choice of its normative references for deliberation and is devoid of ethical content. Based on the threefold framework inferred from Aristotle's definition of ethics, I propose that the two other major activities of cultural life, science and art, can be formally described through different articulations of perceptive feeling, thinking and will. In the case of science, the impetus is given through a concentration of intention (will), it is mediated by observation (perceptive feeling) and finally expressed in the conceptual description of phenomena and laws (thinking). For art, the impetus is given by vision or intuition (thinking), it is mediated by shaping (will) and finally expressed in perceptive feeling. This threefold articulation is crucial because it shows that each major activity of cultural life receives its impetus from a different virtue than the one it aims at: the Beautiful for ethics, the Good for science and the True for art. It issues that ethics, science and art respectively educate the scientific, artistic and ethical dispositions and can only meet their respective  purpose through coordinate interrelation between each other. The new principalist order established by the scientific revolution Any cognitive endeavour must first postulate that the world is intelligible. Up to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the cause of natural phenomena was considered to be God himself so that knowledge was based on revelation initially given by oracles and prophets and then conveyed by priests. The scientific revolution did not oppose the notion of a universal intelligence as a good on its own. But it claimed that the created world has its own internal laws which do no longer depend on God's interplay and that causes can be known by scientific investigation (Thuillier, 1982; 1990). The causal impetus for action had not to be found in leading  principles accessible only via  sentiment but in the elucidation of causal relationships by reason. Therefore, the emancipation of knowledge from a religious authority was not primarily a rejection of the moral institution itself but of the process of mediation (the etymological meaning for religion) between a principalist level anchored in sentiment as a faculty for revealed knowledge and a consequential level relying on thinking as a faculty for conceived knowledge. The promotion of thinking meant that human activity could then emancipate from God's prescription and acquire autonomy. The culture of revelation had thus to be shut down  by gating perceptive feeling. This new principalist order was embodied in the leading epistemological premises of modern science: empiricism, reductionism and objectification (Pouteau, 2003). First, reality cannot be known by cognitive revelation through direct perception of phenomena but only by empiricism through trial and error, i.e. by an experimental, functional approach. For example, animals should be hurt, poisoned and killed in order to gain knowledge about their experience of  pain and toxicological tolerance. Since empiricism is based on a causal strategy, it endows any scientific investigation, either basic or applied, with functional implications  promoting operational (will) rather than conceptual (thinking) expression in science. Second, the complex reality that can be directly perceived by any individual is replaced by another reality, a reality that is constructed in the laboratory and reduced to simplified models. Reality is thus apprehended through a filter of pre-formed concepts introduced at the root of the experimental process. This relies on mechanistic reductionism drawn from physical science and postulating that living beings are machines (Descartes, 1987) and should  be investigated and treated as aggregates of parts. Third,  perception in scientific investigation is objectified and restricted to those characters that can be measured by quantification and analytical techniques based on their  physical properties. Since techniques are primarily concepts embodied in instruments, reagents, purified substances, model plants and animals, etc., the substitution of technology to observation and perception amplifies the filtering of reality through pre-formed concepts. For example, evolutionary distances between species should be measured more accurately by molecular genetic than by morphological differences. These three epistemological premises lead to major changes in the threefold organisation of cultural life. Ethics, science, and art are now locked in their impetus and unable to reach their purposeful expression toward the Good, the True and the Beautiful, respectively. Empirical science is overpowered  by operationality and imposes its hegemony on decisions and action, thus taking over the innate function of ethics. In turn ethics remains confined to sentiment and is reduced to aesthetic expression, i.e. the purpose of art. Finally, art has  become dominated by intellectualism since the srcin of the abstraction movement promoted two hundred years ago by scientific discoveries. In this new order, the three activities do not operate as a correlative whole anymore, they are uncoupled and are thus unable to educate each other. The principalist validation of technology and technological locking Empiricism, reductionism, and objectification converge into technology not only as an extension but as a substitute for the  basic human faculties of sentiment, conception and action. Technology embodies a representation of the world that is transcribed in epistemological principles and scientific theories and finally translated in operationality, i.e. a means towards the good. Like any other means towards the good, either knowledge or social progress, technology should  EURSAFE 2004 Ñ SCIENCE, ETHICS & SOCIETY 107 constitute matter for ethical deliberation. At the political level however, deliberation is circumscribed to downstream analyses of a safe and reliable operational function and the appropriate conditions for social use. Ethics is thus confined to a "case by case" consequential approach, mostly based on scientific assessment. For example, the Nuffield report (1999) concludes: "We think that the decision about what is unnatural cannot be one for public policy... and that there are no objections to GM food other than any direct or indirect risk to human health and the environment". Similarly, the OECD report about substantial equivalence (1993) states that its evaluation "does not necessitate a fundamental change in established principles, nor does it require a different standard of safety". Because its epistemological principles are  prescriptive, technology is in fact considered to be a good in itself that cannot be questioned. This means that principalist decisions validating technology itself are taken pre-emptively at the very basis of experimental processes. Technology was srcinally seen as the ultimate, functional validation of scientific theories. But it eventually became the official purpose of science and the main incentive and  justification for scientific research in public policy. Scientific excellence is now considered to depend on high throughput engineering and to require not only more and more sophisticated technologies but also their concentration and automatisation. The auto-validation of technology is thus amplified by the number and complexity of techniques and instruments involved, resulting in a technological locking   that can barely be reversed (Davies et al., 2002). In the case of  biotechnology, this is characterised by " omic " profiling methods, such as genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, etc. that aim at the systematic identification of all chemical components - DNA sequences, transcribed gene  products, proteins, "secondary" metabolism substances - and at the interpretation of their activities and multiple interactions. The mass and complexity of the data produced impose the use of robots and efficient statistical and bio-computering analyses. Due to the cost and scale of these approaches public policies and Framework programmes of the European Community have strongly encouraged the concentration of equipment, labour and funding that are thus diverted from alternative approaches and leave little conceptual autonomy to individual scientists for their research. Operationality versus  deliberative rationality The technological locking results in the emancipation of operationality, not only from the impetus of sentiment as described above, but also from mediation by deliberative rationality. The new technologies - nuclear power,  biotechnology, and nanotechonology - are characterised by a growing autonomy that escape our conceptual capacity of control. They are not only based on partial knowledge but also generate autonomous, self-amplifying or free-running  processes that are potentially irreversible - as in the case of Tchernobyl for example - and raise anxiety in society. Biotechnology is a culmination in the advent of technoscience and the adoption of physical science premises  by virtually all disciplinary fields, including biology and social sciences. The assumed analogy of living organisms with machines leads to the notion of biological determinism acting on constituents that can be changed or split apart without affecting their identity. This implies that i) every  process should be predictable as long as sufficient knowledge has been gathered on the underlying mechanisms and constituents, ii) autonomy and creativity, i.e. the emergence of new constituents and processes, are merely by-products of error and chance or selection, and iii) the whole has no added value by comparison with the sum of its parts and, therefore, its intrinsic value dissolves in its parts. In contrast to physical technology, biotechnology is based on  probabilistic empiricism but is not supported by a corresponding integrated knowledge that would justify the notion of determinism. For example, genetic engineering and cloning rely only on efficient recipes to select for highly unlikely events. The lack of basic knowledge explains why the impact of technology cannot be predicted - hence the notion of " unknown unknowns " - and should be explored on a  blind trial and error approach based on the empirical  principle. The error and chance paradigm also implies that failures are part of the game - i.e. the no-risk option is impossible - and that adverse secondary effects are inevitable and constitutive of reality. However, it may be argued that adverse side-effects simply reflect intrinsic mis-conception introduced in technology rather than inherent unpredictability  because the current reductionist description of life imposed  by the scientific revolution is not only incomplete but also erroneous and misleading. In particular, the machine metaphor fails to account for intrinsic properties of living  processes referred to as emergence  and complexity  (Greenspan, 2001; Van Regenmortel, 2004). Emergent  properties such as robustness and flexibility cannot be  predicted from the properties of isolated constituents but constitute added value to the whole and thus may prove crucial to address the notions of intrinsic value and integrity. The stochastic behaviour of constituents below the apparent level of organisation reveals the importance of auto-organisation  properties and suggests that autonomy is constitutive of life processes rather than an artefact of error and chance. As shown by the study of brain and heart functions, some degree of stochasticity is necessary to maintain life whilst fully ordered behaviour and synchronicity represent pathological or lethal symptoms (Le Van Quyen & Martinie, 2003). The mechanistic interpretation of living processes may thus apply only when living substance becomes mineral, dead substance and thus conveys a distorted view on life. Toward a moral science ? There is an intuitive notion that the Good and the True should reflect each other. Until the scientific revolution in the North, this was embodied in religion based on a revelation culture  EURSAFE 2004 Ñ SCIENCE, ETHICS & SOCIETY 108 that may be termed the " agri-cultural organisation " because cultural life emerged in the Neolithic with symbolic religious representation, settled village life, and agriculture itself. By depriving cultural life from the innate cognitive and moral functions of perceptive feeling, the principles of the scientific revolution have obscured the respective specificity of science, art and ethics, leading to a " techno-cultural organisation ". Initially aimed at a morally-independent knowledge based on a conceptual culture, science has eventually dissolved into technoscience, a discipline anchored in the representation of technology as an inherent good rather than an integrated knowledge. The uncoupling of action not only from sentiment but also from deliberative rationality is thus finalising a split between the Good and the True. The exclusion of the moral and cognitive subject from the definition of life, finally denying the basic right of each individual to her/his own identity as a living organism, should be a cause of concern for our human integrity. Intrinsic concerns cannot be ignored without major consequences to the social order. By challenging our sense of life and eventually our sense of self, biotechnology proves instrumental in re-assessing the validity of basic epistemological premises embedded in our cultural identity and raising our individual autonomy as a fourth faculty  besides sentiment, thinking and will. Will this new faculty  provide sufficient impetus for a new auto-organisation leading to a coherent cultural life ? Can it contribute to re-unify the True and the Good in a moral science ? So far, systems biology currently used to address biological complexity still relies on physical models and increased technological throughputs and computer simulations (Katagiri, 2003). As shown above, more radical changes in the scientific paradigms are needed to solve the contradictions conveyed by the machine metaphor. This does not require only more conceptual efforts but also a coherent articulation of ethics, science, and art through a global education of all three basic faculties of sentiment, thinking and will. In particular, the education of perceptive feeling is utterly needed for a moral and cognitive approach to the integrity of life and eventually to our human identity as living organisms. The role of the Beautiful in mediating between the Good and the True has long been overlooked but should now deserve more attention. References   Aristotle (1935).  Magna Moralia . G.C. Armstrong (ed.), Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge Mass. and London. Borlaug, N. E. (2000). Ending World Hunger. The Promise of Biotechnology and the Threat of Antiscience Zealotry .    Plant Physiology , 124: 487Ð490. Davies, B. , Richards, C. & Spash, C. L. (2002) The socio-economic implications of biotechnology in agriculture: exploring the issues. In: Genetic engineering and the intrinsic value and integrity of animals and plants . D. Heaf et J. Wirz (eds). Ifgene, UK, http://www.anth.org/ifgene/2002.htm. 62-75. Descartes, R. (1987).  Discourse on Method and The  Meditations . Penguin Classics, London. Greenspan, R.J. (2001). The flexible genome.  Nature  Reviews Genetics , 2: 383-387. Katagiri, F. (2003). Attacking complex problems with the  power of systems biology.  Plant Physiology , 132: 417-419. Le Van Quyen, M. & Martinerie, J. (2003). L'anticipation des crises d'Žpilepsie.  Pour la Science , 314: 104-109.  Nuffield Council on Bioethics (1999). Genetically Modified Crops: The Ethical and Social Issues . NCB, London. Pouteau, S. (2003). Food democracy: the other legitimate factors and the cultural power. In:  Ethics as a dimension of agrifood policy . Rainelli, P. (ed). Proceedings of the fourth EurSafe congress, France. 43-46. Thuillier, P. (1982). La "rŽvolution scientifique" du XIIe si•cle.  La Recherche , 13: 1018-1033. Thuillier, P. (1990) Magie et technoscience: la grande mutation du Moyen-Age.  La Recherche , 21: 862-873. Van Regenmortel, M.H.V. (2004). Biological complexity emerges from the ashes of genetic reductionism . Journal of Molecular Recognition , 17: 1-4. Verhoog H. (2003). Naturalness and the genetic modification of animals. Trends in Biotechnology , 21: 294-297. EurSafe 2004 "Science, ethics and society" ed. De Tavernier J et Aerts S, Belgique
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