Self-Made Men and Man-Made Selves


Dov FoxFollow

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What if reproductive enhancements were developed to the point where they were technologically feasible, medically safe, and economically accessible to all parents on behalf of their children-to-be? Would anything be morally objectionable about parents choosing to have offspring of a particular type? Michael Sandel argues that if genetic interventions for non-health related traits, such as IQ, height, and athletic prowess became the normal way by which offspring came to acquire their particular biological constitutions, such practices would diminish the moral sentiments that social solidarity requires. Professor Sandel does not explain, however, why we should privilege an ethic of sharing. What need have we for solidarity or compassion, Kant asked, if their purpose is simply to correct for a bad state of affairs that we could remedy more effectively and more consistently by way of legislation? It is true that partiality and variability in the human expression of caring make it imprudent to rely on perfectly benevolent citizens. But even if just outcomes could be generated more reliably by enforcing a system of fair procedures and supporting institutions, few of the individual misfortunes - physical injury, dashed expectations, unrequited love - to which altruism and friendship respond can be avoided or alleviated by a system of enforceable rules alone. Moreover, unless people share a strong underlying moral bond, public institutions will be without compelling moral reason for the less advantaged to make claims on the social and economic resources of the more advantaged.

Publication Info

The Review of Politics, Vol. 70, No. 4, 2008