Eugenics: Anxiety & Revulsion, Socrates & Habermas


  • Dan Ernst


This paper argues that the anxiety and moral revulsion generated by eugenic projects in contemporary liberal sensibilities can be understood (and perhaps mastered) through an engagement with Socrates’ and Habermas’ thinking on the matter. In THE REPUBLIC, Socrates and his cohort of young men stand before the same crossroads we find ourselves today. The cohort are required to make the anxiety-laden decision between the path of the ‘simple’ city, the path Nature has smoothed out for humankind, and the ‘creative’ city, a way of life that slips the boundaries and harmony of Nature. In place of the natural limits escaped by the choice of the ‘creative’ city, Socrates generates moral boundaries to quell the anxiety induced by the introduction of unlimited desires and unimagined human power into city. But the moral guideline Socrates suggests for the use of eugenics is unacceptable to liberal sensibilities. Habermas suggests an explanation of the moral revulsion generated by liberal sensibilities at eugenics. From this understanding, we can fashion a moral guideline (less strict than the one Habermas proposes) to allow the power of genetic modification into contemporary society in a way that does not induce anxiety or moral revulsion.

Author Biography

Dan Ernst

Professor,Division of International Studies, Ewha Womans University





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